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Chic at Work: Steven Kolb of CFDA

by habituallychic

07 . 24 . 13
When you work on a book, you realize during the process that sometimes certain elements don’t work or you don’t have enough pages to include everything you had originally intended. Lucky for me, I knew that I would be able to feature these interviews and workspace photos on the blog.  While we did feature photos of Steven Kolb’s moodboard at the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) on the end papers of Creativity at Work, the full profile didn’t fit in the book. With all the talk about the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund recently, I thought this might be a great time to introduce exactly what the CFDA does and how important they are to the fashion world. 

This is actually Steven’s old office as the CFDA has moved into a new space.  This is also something that happened with a lot of people I shot for the book so perhaps some follow up visits might be in order. 

I’m sure many people in New York know what the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) does but can you explain it so the average person can understand and tell us why it’s such an important organization?
The Council of Fashion Designers of America, Inc, (CFDA) is a not-for-profit trade association that leads industry-wide initiatives and whose membership consists of more than 400 of America’s foremost womenswear, menswear, jewelry, and accessory designers. In addition to hosting the annual CFDA Fashion Awards, which recognize the top creative talent in the industry, the organization offers programs which support professional development and scholarships, including the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund, the Geoffrey Beene Design Scholar Award, the Liz Claiborne Scholarship Award, and the CFDA/Teen Vogue Scholarship. Member support is provided through the Business Services Network, a high-profile group of companies offering designers strategic opportunities.

The CFDA Foundation, Inc. is a separate, not-for-profit organized to mobilize the membership to raise funds for charitable causes. Through the Foundation, the CFDA created and manages Fashion Targets Breast Cancer; raises funds for HIV/AIDS organizations with 7th on Sale; addresses the issue of model health with The CFDA Health Initiative; and is a key participant in other programs such as the annual Fashion’s Night Out.

You worked for other non-profits such as the American Cancer Society and Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS (DIFFA). Was it easy to switch to fashion or did you experience a learning curve?

It comes down to having business experience. So many designers don’t have the business back ground and are in need of advice and mentoring, so I help with that. In my not-for-profit life, I was helping different charities fulfill their mission. At the CFDA, it is the same, but connected to growing a designer’s business.  In both instances it is rewarding to see success based on my input.  

How important is it for a designer to be asked to become a member of the CFDA?  What benefits are there for them?

Designers must apply to become a member of the CFDA.  Not everyone gets in.  When considering new members, we start with talent and whether a designer has a unique point of view. There is a prestige associated with being a CFDA member, but it is more than that.  We are a family of 400 designers and there is strength in numbers that influences issues that affect our industry.   We also bring tangible value to the membership by creating strategic access, value and opportunity for new business development.

How important is it for the CFDA to support charitable causes and health initiatives?

People look at fashion and think it’s all about appearance, but there’s a depth to fashion that goes beyond how someone looks, that goes beyond appearance or style. Real style is about the giving, and the connection to issues that are important to us as individuals. There really is a heart to fashion.

Who has taught you the most in your career?
When I first started working for the American Cancer Society I was a bit shy. The President of the ACS took a liking to me and would ask me to help him on special projects.  I am sure he did this to help me gain confidence in myself.  It was extra work but I liked it.  I’ve always remembered how supportive he was to me and credit him for building the basics of my work today.  

Who do you most admire in your industry and why?

There are too many people to pick just one, but if I have to then I would say CFDA President Diane von Furstenberg.  Diane is great.  She is a working designer and a smart businesswoman. She has global business and thinks big.  She is always accessible and truly hands on and I continue to learn from her both professionally and personally. 

What continues to excite you about your job?

The best part of my job is that I am surrounded by creative people. I was hired as a not-for-profit manager so my skill set is different. I love the challenge of taking a creative idea and making it work. 

How do you find balance in your life?
Fashion is my job but it does not define my life. My partner Jay and I have a house in Hawley, PA.  It sits up a hill and is surrounded by trees.  It feels like a tree fort.  I spend as much time there as I can watching birds and chipmunks.  Weekends are very Green Acres, “Keep Manhattan, just give me that countryside.”

What is the best advice you have ever received?
Be yourself and live your own life.  

You’ve not only embraced but successfully mastered social media on tumblr and twitter.  How important are these things to getting information out about the CFDA?
Social media is now.  It is a direct way of sharing ideas and issues that are important to CFDA.

“The end is nothing, the road is all.”
– Willa Cather
Photos by Heather Clawson for Habitually Chic: Creativity at Work