Melissa Choi and Pia Panaligan, 2006 PhilaU fashion design graduates, were selected to the newest class of emerging designers participating in the second Philadelphia Fashion Incubator at Macy’s Center City.
Choi and Panaligan, co-founders of the fashion line Senpai + Kohai, will spend the next year as one of six designers-in-residence, working in an 800-square-foot workshop space at Macy’s Center City, where they will produce sample collections, gain valuable retail insight and experience and showcase their collections to local and national retailers.
“Melissa and Pia exude the talent, dedication and drive to succeed in this industry,” said Clara Henry, director of PhilaU’s fashion design program. “Coupled with industry experience and focused energy, they will flourish as designers-in-residence within the numerous mentoring programs offered. It brings such joy to see them develop into the creative designers they now are and, as business women, the impact they will make in the marketplace.”
The designers said they are thrilled to be part of the Fashion Incubator program. Choi said their main goal is to spend the year learning from industry experts so they can “build a strong foundation for a sustainable fashion business.” Since their background is in design, the partners want to improve their knowledge of business practices and strategies so they can fully realize their creative vision and run a successful company.
Philadelphia Fashion Incubator at Macy’s Center City is a collaborative initiative by Macy’s, the city of Philadelphia, the Center City District, Philadelphia University and several other local fashion design programs to support and promote talented young designers and promote economic development in the local fashion and retail industry.
Fashion Incubator designers will be mentored by industry professionals, attend workshops on the fashion business and participate in fashion events throughout the year, including the city’s week-long fashion celebration, The Philadelphia Collection. In addition to Choi and Panaligan, this year’s other designers-in-residence are Annina King, Devin Anne Pauley, Leah Delfiner and Trisha Williams.
Edward Goldberg ’65, senior vice president for external affairs at Macy’s and a PhilaU alumnus, said in announcing the class of 2013 designers, “Macy’s strongly believes in fostering local talent and helping Philadelphia’s designers succeed. This program could very well nurture the next generation of great American fashion designers and Macy’s is very proud to play a significant role in this effort.”
As the new designers-in-residence move into the Macy’s workshop, PhilaU fashion design alumna Kaitlyn Doherty‘11 finished up her year as one of the inaugural Fashion Incubator designers, focusing on handbags as well as apparel. Doherty said she gained a lot from the experience, from learning about business and manufacturing to the benefit of being part of Philadelphia’s growing fashion design culture.
Through contacts made at Fashion Incubator, Doherty was invited to exhibit her handbags and accessories at the Accessories Council booth at a major industry trade show in Las Vegas last month. Doherty plans to focus her business on handbags and accessories for now, selling online and, soon, she hopes, in boutiques and retail stores.
“Everyone was generous in donating time and resources,” she said, including a team of Wharton MBA students who acted as consultants to her business. “I was looking for help with marketing and branding, and think I have the tools now to grow my business,” Doherty said.
Elissa Bloom, executive director of Philadelphia’s Fashion Incubator program, said, “The immense progress and growth that I have seen in each designer sincethe program launched last March is absolutely astonishing. I am thrilled to embark on a new year with six talented designers.”
Choi and Panaligan met in a fashion illustration class at PhilaU in 2004. After graduating, they stayed in touch as each gained experience working in the fashion industry, including at Anthropologie for Panaligan and Free People for Choi, but both ultimately had the goal of designing a clothing line. While they share a similar aesthetic, Choi said she and Panaligan each have a distinct style, resulting in a creative, dynamic partnership.
They launched their first line for Senpai + Kohai in November 2012, working mostly out of Choi’s South Philly bedroom. With the encouragement of PhilaU fashion design faculty, they applied to the Philadelphia Fashion Incubator program to foster the growth of their company
The impact from the Fashion Incubator announcement was almost immediate, sending people to their web site and bumping up sales, including a jacket and two dresses that sold the next day.
Emphasizing traditional craftsmanship, an artistic approach and a global influence, Senpai + Kohai features one-of-a-kind pieces, including hand-sewn party dresses, reworked jackets and hand-painted hosiery. Panaligan describes the style of their unique, ready-to-wear garments as “comfortable” and “effortless.” To view their collection, visit: www.senpaikohai.com.