Anna Chae

Program Associate of Education + Professional Development
New York

Anna interned for the CFDA in the Education + Professional Development department while attending Parsons. At the end of her internship, she was brought on by the team as a full time employee. Anna's current role focuses on the CFDA's programs/awards that are geared towards emerging designers.

This interview took place between Tate and Anna at Coffee Project in New York
Editor: Pamela Ibanez

TVPS: So how did you get to where you are today?

AC: I’m from Georgia and moved to New York to attend Parsons and major in Strategic Design and Management. During college, I picked up different types of internships. My last one was in Education + Professional Development at the CFDA and I ended up getting hired! This June it’ll be 2 years. So that’s my long story short!

When you first entered Parsons, did you have any idea of where you wanted to be?

I knew I was interested in fashion, but I had little knowledge about the industry and the kinds of jobs that existed. It was very black and white to me. I actually wanted to be a buyer. I feel like when you first go into the industry, you think, “I want to be a buyer, a merchandiser, in sales, or a designer.”

“"I feel like when you first go into the industry, you think, “I want to be a buyer, a merchandiser, in sales, or a designer.”"”

Do you think the Strategic Design and Management program at Parsons helped give you the tools to get you where you are today?

The great thing about Design and Management, like a lot of the majors at Parsons, is that it gives you a wider scope of the industry with an understanding of the different areas you could be involved in, and from there, it’s really up to you to take the classes that fulfill your own personal interests. For me, I turned towards the business side of the fashion industry.

Another great thing is that Parsons always pushes you to do a lot of internships. You can pretty much tell a Parsons resume, because they always have some 20 internships on them. The school prompts you to just jump right in.

Was there a specific class that had the biggest impact?

Interestingly enough, I think it was a combination. I loved the business courses because that’s the direction that I was headed in. I actually worked at Parsons School of Fashion as a work study student for 3 years, so I was able to work on the CFDA Scholarship Program from that side. It’s full circle because now I’m working on the same program at the CFDA. I didn’t take any fashion design classes, so I observed bits and pieces of design creation working in the fashion office. That’s the side I got to know, and probably never would have unless I was taking introductory design courses at the time.

Why is it important for someone who’s in the business side of the fashion industry to understand the design side of it as well?

You can’t understand something if you don’t know anything about it. If someone asked you to make a t-shirt by tomorrow, it might seem reasonable. But certain business decisions need to be taken into consideration - the creative process. When you think about the production timeline, you have to consider how the garment is made, how long it will take for approvals, and the time for shipping. Knowing the full cycle from design to consumer helps the “business” people create a realistic timeline and make thoughtful decisions.

So how would you describe the CFDA as a company?

In one word: efficient. In two words: mind-blowing, just because we do so much and people don’t realize how small the organization is. Another great thing is that a lot of people don’t know everything that we cover. We almost always have something up our sleeve. That’s particularly what I like about the CFDA. In addition to our involvement in New York Fashion Week: Women’s and Men’s, we have the CFDA Scholarship Program, the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund, CFDA {Fashion Incubator}, we service our Membership year-around, and so much more! There are all these different opportunities to engage with talent, and we’re really able to provide various types of hybrid opportunities.

“"We have a lot of programs because we don’t take a one-size-fits-all approach. We’re always striving to find the gray area where needs haven’t been met yet."”

So what’s your role?

Currently, I am the Program Associate of Education and Professional Development. I specifically work with Sara, our Director, on the CFDA Scholarship Program, which encompasses the CFDA Scholarship Award, Liz Claiborne Design Scholarship Award, Geoffrey Beene Design Scholarship Award, Kenneth Cole Footwear Innovation Award, CFDA+ and Elaine Gold Launch Pad.

We have a lot of programs because we don’t take a one-size-fits-all approach. We’re always striving to find the gray area where needs haven’t been met yet.

So how does the CFDA balance innovation with staying true to its heritage?

The best example of that is how, in 2017, we relaunched the CFDA Scholarship Program. That was our first Educational Initiative. In the past, we had 4 scholarships with similar approaches for briefings. Now, we are taking a whole new approach that we are really excited about. For the CFDA Scholarship Awards specifically, we are now considering all specializations, whereas it was just apparel in the past.

It'll be interesting to see how the selection committee members rule out a womenwear collection vs. a jewelry one, because they’re completely different categories.

We’re also incorporating sustainability to give designers a foundation in their business because the curiosity is there.

“"We started integrating sustainability into our work, especially with younger designers, so that it’ll become a strand of their DNA from the get-go."”

Why is sustainability important to the CFDA?

You can’t really think about designing for the future if we don’t have an environment to host those opportunities. Our industry is only one part of a whole. It is great that Sara, our Director, and Violeta, our Program Manager, are very well-versed in sustainability. We started integrating sustainability into our work, especially with younger designers, so that it’ll become a strand of their DNA from the get-go.

Can you talk a little bit about the Geoffrey Beene Design Scholarship Award?

Yeah, we actually moved that into the Graduate space which is very new to us too! The applicants are going to be doing a lot of prototyping. The finalist gets a $1,000 stipend to create a garment. The creative brief and selection process are very different and we are doing a lot more to engage the applicants and the Selection Committee We’re flying in our finalists. We work with 19 schools across the US, and we’re excited to be meeting these applicants in person. They’ll be presenting to the committee.

How would you describe the CFDA’s role within the American Fashion industry?

At our core, we aim to strengthen the impact of American Fashion in the Global Economy. I consider us a facilitator in the fashion community. We are a nonprofit so everything that we do is for the people we service.

Can you give an overview of the CFDA’s philanthropic work?

Philanthropy is important to our designers, and it is important for us to be involved in that side of the industry. Three key focuses in our philanthropy space are Fashion Targets Breast Cancer, HIV/AIDS and Disaster Relief.

From your two years with the CFDA, what has been your biggest takeaway?

Flat out, we do not have enough jobs in the fashion industry and it’s quite sad. There are so many amazing people and it’s unfortunate that we’re losing so much talent because there aren’t enough opportunities. When I first started at the CFDA, I remember reading a document that said there are only about 1,700 fashion industry jobs, which is nothing.

Can you specify?

It makes us really think about how we can grow our industry but also sustain our economy.

How does your role integrate into the bigger picture of what the CFDA does?

A few years ago, we did a study with The Boston Consulting Group to identify what the CFDA should be focusing on, one of those pillars being education. The goal is to support younger talent, hoping that they one day start a brand and become a CFDA member, or use that education as a stepping-stone to something else. The CFDA aims to be there for a designer at every point in their lifeline, so I work at the beginning of that lifeline with the younger designers, and then my colleagues carry them through along the rest of their careers.

What’s the most rewarding aspect of your job?

Talking with all of the younger designers for sure. They’re all so unique, they all have different stories and backgrounds.

It's crazy how they achieve success with the kinds of obstacles that they face, so even just listening to them is so helpful, because we can identify where they need more support.

Are there any needs that surprised you or...

When people started tossing around the word sustainability, we started paying more attention to how it correlated with the needs of younger designers. People say sustainable, but what does that even mean? How do people want to be more sustainable?

When we laced sustainability through the foundation of our programs, we could work to help that “need.” That one word has so many pathways from making a product, running a business to self and image. In one of those efforts, was the recreation of the CFDA + Lexus Fashion* Initiative, which is our largest sustainable initiative to date.

“"We have the opportunity to collaborate with other industries to create something completely new by hybridizing."”

Why is it important for fashion to support new and incoming talent?

If we all stayed the same and didn’t foster new talent then we might not ever grow, and we’d be stuck in the place. The world with all its industries changes so much. We rely on a constant stream of new ideas!

Since we foster new talent, we’re in a place now where all of the industries are intertwined, so we have the opportunity to collaborate with other industries to create something completely new by hybridizing.

What’s the most challenging aspect for supporting new designers?

Well, I wish I could support them all because there are so many of them. Imran from Business of Fashion opened up our CFDA Fashion Education Summit in 2016, and he was saying how there’s never one solution that fits all, and that’s the way it is with the industry because it is always changing. We constantly have to listen, the research is never finished. We need to be agile, attentive, and always on top our game to stay as helpful as possible.

What does this CFDA look for in young designers?

Talent, that’s it.

Does it matter if the designers have a strong sense of business?

I guess it depends on the program. For scholarships, it’s really based on excellence and who can execute the brief to the highest standards. Our new Elaine Gold Launch Pad involves a business component. We’ll look for that business perspective, but at the same time, we’re searching for designers who want to make a greater change. These talents will want to grow with us and have an impact on the industry.

And from there they can find a business partner to deal with that side of the industry.

If that is what they want…but exactly! Let's say you're graduating for Fashion Design, it is a bit unfair to be like "Oh well you need to be an expert in business too." I say this especially because fashion design is such a hardcore major in itself. Of course, it can be a plus to know that side of the industry, but I don't think that's always mandatory. On the other hand, we always try to implement the business aspect of the industry into our programs now to give the designers a foundation. We wouldn’t want our designers to be taken advantage of.

How has the influx of digital media affected the CFDA’s role within the fashion industry?

It’s been helpful because it allowed us to shine the spotlight on our membership and programs in new ways. Through CFDA.com, we can highlight and keep the community updated. We aim to make the industry aware of everything happening. We’re trying to connect all the dots and keep the community in the loop.

What has been the biggest success story during your time at the CFDA?

I think it depends on how you define success, but for me, success is in the little things. We always reach out to 50 or so people, but if 1 works out, it makes my day.

For instance, I was talking to my friend Russell Howe at Saks, and he mentioned a designer showcase there. I told him about our CFDA+program that highlights recently-graduated talent globally.. I sent out an email blast to everyone in the program, and 1 designer ended up making it into Saks with an exclusive. That made my day.

What makes a good boss?

Someone who's nurturing and concise. They’re able to push boundaries, but they also take a genuine interest in their team. In addition to that, someone who is a good teammate is really valuable. It's important to have a good working relationship with your boss because it's that trust that really matters.

Why do you want to be where you are today?

I like to help people. In the end, I’m not a fashion designer. I’m someone who’s trying to help foster the growth of other designers. I want to make impacts.

What’s your biggest learning experience in your entire career?

Moving from Georgia to New York was the best thing I could do because I was so clueless. I didn't know what was going on, and you're just really thrown right in here. People who come to New York must have a specific type of personality. You just don't care, you’re independent, and you go for it.

Who do you look up to?

This is so cliché, but my mom. She’s raised all of us while having a full time job so I feel like I can’t really complain about anything really… It was great for me to see that because she's such a strong, independent female in my life.

“"I like that it’s progressive and that we’re all equals... the industry flipped, and we now look at emerging and established in the same way."”

What do you like about the industry today?

I like that it’s progressive and that we’re all equals. When I was a freshman, everyone just thought about the big, established brands. There wasn’t as much focus on up-and-coming designers, but now I feel ‘emerging’ is a buzzword. The industry flipped, and we now look at emerging and established in the same way.

What does success mean to you?

Everyone has their own definition of success. For me, success means results. I want to feel fulfilled and that is through the impact I can make by helping fashion designers.

What is your take on this generation? And where do you think we’re headed?

Our generation is unpredictable and I like that. I just hope that at such a fast pace, we can grow with minimal growing pains. There are areas that we can do better. The more people know, the more they realize that you can take baby steps and that’s super important.

What advice would you give to someone who looks up to you?

Number one: if you don't own a pair of mom jeans, then go find one, because they will change your life. But real talk, work hard, nothing can stop you – you are your own worst enemy so if you keep going, you’ll go somewhere.