BREAKING: Chicago cuts fashion funding

ChiFashion Photo
Fashion designers and fashion looks after the 2015 PlayCHIC Fashion Show at Alhambra Place in Chicago.

By Alexandra Whittaker

The City of Chicago has eliminated funding for Fashion Focus Chicago, Chicago Fashion Week and the post of program director for Fashion and Culinary Creative Arts and Industries due to budgetary cuts. All were administrated by the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) and the cuts took effect on Dec. 31.

Fashion Focus Chicago was launched in 2005 by Mayor Richard M. Daley to support the Chicago fashion industry through technical assistance and events, including meetings and fashion shows. The cuts mean that the city no longer has an agency directly supporting Chicago fashion. The city-produced Chicago Fashion Week, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in October, will no longer occur.

“DCASE will not produce fashion events in 2016, but we will continue to support the industry in other ways,” said Jamey Lundblad, Director of Marketing and Communications for the department.

The city’s 2015 fashion programming budget, spent primarily on Fashion Week, was $71,500, said Lundblad. Additional salary and benefits totaled approximately $120,000.

Among the cuts is the position of Program Director for Fashion and Culinary Creative Arts and Industries position, held by Tonya Gross since 2013.

Gross said she was “disappointed” about the position’s elimination, but she remains optimistic about the future of Chicago fashion.

“Do other cities such as NYC use this model? No,” she said. “But there is room for more discussion and hope that as a community we continue to seek out ways to collaborate, interact and support one another.” The goal, Gross said, is “creating healthy fashion businesses and retaining creative talent here that lends to Chicago being a fashion city, a fashion destination.”

Anke Loh, an associate fashion professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, said that having a city-sponsored fashion ambassador for the Chicago fashion industry is crucial.

“I believe the position should not be eliminated,” Loh said, “and should be held by someone who is a great networker at local, national and international levels.”

While the new cuts present an opportunity to rethink and reposition fashion in Chicago, said Loh, Chicago hasn’t always fostered its fashion talent.

“There is a great deal of fashion potential in Chicago, of which the City is not taking full advantage. It would be a shame to miss out on so many opportunities,” she said. “Because we are outside of the traditional fashion centers, we have the latitude to experiment freely, finding entirely new avenues to explore and develop.”

Even though DCASE will not produce fashion events in 2016, they will support the fashion industry through a workforce development grant to The Apparel Industry Board, Inc. as well as programs such as the Lake FX Summit + Expo, an annual free conference for artists, creative professionals and entrepreneurs.

“Additionally,” said Lundblad, “we will convene the Mayor’s Fashion Council and other key stakeholders to determine how we can best support the fashion community with our remaining resources in 2016.”

While Gross regrets that the city will no longer employ a liaison for the fashion industry, she is hopeful about the future of Chicago’s fashion industry.

“I am actively seeking a model that will continue this work,” Gross said. “Mostly, other large cities do not directly support fashion programming like Chicago has done these last 10 years.”

Even without the city’s support, Gross said the fashion community must move forward.

“The hard work to build and retain the fashion community in Chicago must continue.”

Photo at top: Fashion designers and their looks after the 2015 PlayCHIC Fashion Show at Alhambra Place in Chicago, one of many fashion events that takes place in the city each year. (Alexandra Whittaker/MEDILL)