Spotlight on Design Entrepreneurs NYC Winner: Becca McCharen
Shortly after showing at last September's Fashion Week, Becca McCharen was announced as the grand prize winner of Design Entrepreneurs NYC (DENYC), a mini-MBA program that equips select fashion designers with the business skills needed to successfully run a fashion label. Since then, the budding fashion designer has been busy designing new collections for her company, Chromat. Drawing from her training as an architect and urban designer, Becca creates garments for Chromat that are "structural experiments for the human body." Most recently, she debuted her bionic bodies collection at the February New York Fashion Week (NYFW).
We caught up with Becca, who shared more about her experiences in the DENYC program, the inspiration for her art, and how being in DENYC helped take her business to the next level.
What have you been up to since taking the top prize at DENYC?
Winning the grand prize at DENYC was an incredible way to conclude September's NYFW. Since then, we've booked amazing orders on the SS14 MATHLETES collection, and now we are weeks away from shipping that collection to stores such as Opening Ceremony, Coco de Mer, and International Playground.
We just recently debuted our AW14 BIONIC BODIES collection at NYFW in February with the help of MADE Fashion Week. The new collection, which incorporates wearable technology, chromed metal plating, and new velvets, has been getting overwhelmingly positive feedback from writers at Vogue, i-D, Dazed, and more—which is a total dream come true. It's been incredible watching each season build and grow from previous collections.
Tell us a little about your background. How did you get into fashion in the first place?
I studied architecture at the University of Virginia. While I was a student, my college job was as a seamstress in the UVA Drama Dept, sewing period piece corsets and crinolines. It makes sense looking back that my architectural obsession with scaffolding and my training in corsetry would combine into what I'm designing now with Chromat.
Where did your inspiration for Chromat come from?
Architecture and Modern Art theory; strong, powerful, bold women; strange, unconventional material palettes.
What was the biggest challenge you faced while getting Chromat off the ground?
There were definitely a lot of challenges when starting Chromat. I started it as a side project while working my full-time job as an urban designer/architect. I have no business or fashion background, so building a fashion design business from the ground up with no outside funding has been a lot of figuring things out as I go. The biggest challenge I've faced has been simple: having the funding to execute all of Chromat's big ideas.
How did DENYC help accelerate Chromat?
The Design Entrepreneur Program was an amazing experience for me. As someone with no business or fashion background who is now running a fashion business, the classes illuminated many aspects of fashion entrepreneurship that had never crossed my mind or that I knew were possible. The mentorship and advice offered through my assigned mentor as well as other instructors in the class was irreplaceable.
Another aspect of the program that I hadn't anticipated was the camaraderie I felt with fellow designers. I enjoyed meeting other designers from all different parts of the industry—children's wear, knitwear, footwear—who were all interested in discussing their business experiences. It was great to have a space where we could relate to each other and even share factories and fabric sources.
Before enrolling in the DENYC program, Chromat’s business plan was something I’d been chipping away at for several years. The summer intensive program provided the necessary deadlines for me to actually finish each section and do the research I'd been meaning to get around to for years. Having the time and space to think about big picture goals has helped me as I execute future fashion weeks and spring deliveries with more intention and a view of our long and short term goals.
Thanks to our partnership with G-III Apparel group, your first place finish last year came with some prize money. How have you been using it?
The prize enabled us to work towards many of our goals. We have since hired an accountant to whip our QuickBooks into tiptop shape, which will enable us to have our numbers right for future investors. We paid our photographers and modeling agencies for the September lookbook shoot and the costs of our NYFW presentation. We also used a portion of the grant to pay for production materials, payroll, and business overhead.
The day after I received the grant from FIT, I was writing checks so fast I got hand cramps. It was amazing! But in a larger sense, the grant gave us the validation that Chromat is not just a crazy idea from an ex-architect. It’s a strong business that is poised to grow and establish itself as an innovator in both the swimwear and womenswear fields for years to come.
Who should consider applying to DENYC?
Any designer out there who doesn't already know everything about running a fashion business. Basically, everyone.
What advice do you have for aspiring fashion designers?
Designers who are thinking about running their own labels should know that the actual designing of clothes is only about 10% of what you will end up doing. You will spend the rest of the time running your business.
Are you a fashion designer looking to hone your business skills? Design Entrepreneurs NYC is recruiting for its next class! Applications are open until March 31. Visit www.designentrepreneursnyc.com to see last year's winners and learn more information.