Meet the Newest Class of CFDA {Fashion Incubator} Designers

At the surf, sun (and tequila) heavy W Punta de Mita.

By: Alicia Cesaro
Photography: Jake Rosenberg

ICYMI: We’ve been partners with W Hotels and the CFDA for a long time now, and it’s one of our most fun collaborations to date, taking us everywhere from Vieques to Istanbul, Beijing to Dallas. So you could say we were pretty excited when we heard we were heading to Mexico to meet the newest CFDA {Fashion Incubator} class.

We truthfully couldn’t think of a more perfect setting for the ten fashion brands to get to know one another than the W’s newly opened hotel in Punta de Mita, which sits high on one of the region’s best surfing beaches. Whether lounging by the hotel’s pool, snacking on fresh fish from the vintage truck-turned ceviche bar, or gathering inspiration in the nearby surf town of Sayulita, the group of America’s brightest designers were able to relax and recharge before heading back to New York City and beginning work in their shared studio space.

And of course, we documented it all—everything from sunrise surf and yoga classes with the W and CFDA teams to sunset dinners on the sand and everything in between. Scroll on to take a look at highlights from the epic trip and meet the designers behind some of our (and your soon to be) favorite brands. We can pretty much guarantee they’ll be a major part of your wardrobe soon.


Alexandra Alvarez, Alix

“When I first started designing, my father told me to think of something basic that everybody needs, like a t-shirt. I thought there aren’t a lot of bodysuits of there.”

“The fact that I was chosen to be a part of the CFDA {Incubator Program} is thrilling. It’s going to be an amazing experience from the W inspiration trips to the people I to meet and the relationships I’m going to build, I feel really blessed. The hotel is absolutely stunning, I’m so excited to be here, being a part of this collaboration with the W CFDA, it’s a great opportunity—I don’t want to leave!”



Aurora James, Brother Vellies

“The inspiration for my line really comes from travel, especially across Africa. This opportunity to immerse myself in different cultures is what my brand is all about.”

“The CFDA {Fashion Incubator} is a really amazing program—I’m so lucky. There are ten of us and they assign us each a mentor to provide business development. It’s a dream come true for an emerging designer. Traveling to different W locations allows me the opportunity to immerse myself in different cultures, which is really what my brand is all about.

“I have to tell you, this hotel makes a mean piña colada. I’m also obsessed with the tuk tuks here. They remind me of the tuk tuks in Africa. Literally, any time I have to go anywhere in this hotel, I’m like, ‘Hi. Can you send me a tuk tuk, please?’ So, I’ll just be in the tuk tuk with my piña colada, living the dream.”



Charles Youssef

“The woman I design for isn’t completely waif thin, because I don’t think that’s how real women look. She wants to look and feel good without suffering in her clothing.”

“I’m super excited and honored to be here. There’s something about the beach that’s so zen and inspiring. The hotel room is amazing—one of the walls is a window and looks out onto the beach, and there are cabanas and huts’s so amazing.

“I would love to visit the W Bali or Goa on my inspiration trip, they look like tropical fantasies. I could really channel some incredible energy there that would inspire a spring collection influenced by all the different textiles and colors.”



Daniel DuGoff, DDUGOFF

“I thought about what makes somebody want to buy something and what gives it value: how it’s made, where the materials come from, how it fits, how the fabrics feel.”

“I studied architecture, but realized I wanted to work with design on a one-on-one scale and ended up working with fashion designers, and really liked it. I worked at Marc Jacobs and got amazing experience that I wouldn’t have since I didn’t go to fashion school. After a few years, I branched out on my own to start this line.

“It was so exciting to be be told I was going to be a part of the CFDA {Fashion Incubator}. Working with a small company you think about the next day and the next season, but stepping back and thinking about five and ten-year goals is so exciting. To be able to have access to the W and CFDA’s mentors and travel is so great.”



Tim Joo and Dan Joo, Haerfest

“Our name embodies our brand. It’s the idea that if you put hard work into the things you love, and it’ll grow into something great.”

“We started at an interesting time. This was back the backpack was more of a school item or something you’d bring on a hike. We thought there was room for a tailored backpack. Just in assessing the landscape, our customer is the modern, working, professional. It’s more acceptable now to come into work in a nice pair of leather sneakers, than it is to come in wearing dress shoes. There’s a shift in that market. We wanted to do the same thing for women—we wanted to empower them.

“The CFDA {Fashion Incubator} has been amazing. We’ve met with our mentors, and they’ve been super helpful in assessing our businesses and what we need help in. That has been super exciting.

"We're looking forward to the opportunity to travel and see different people, cultures, and get inspired for our next collection. We would love to visit the W Barcelona to see the Guggenheim, the architecture, and eat some good food." 


Jason Alkire and Julie Alkire, HAUS ALKIRE

“We really wanted to not have any creative limitations and push ourselves, textile-wise to be able to offer the client custom elements.”

“Our woman is definitely a patron of the arts and very well-traveled. We have a lot of executives, entertainment executives, art dealers who are collecting pieces for their wardrobe that they can keep. She wants to stand out a bit from the crowd, she’s a bit eclectic and has a sense of humor. She knows how to style and edit, and she covets things that she can put together on her own. She’s more worried about what the woman in room thinks than the man.

“For our inspiration trip, we would love to go to the W Dubai. We’d love to learn that culture and to reach that women on a personal level and live in her environment. The women in Dubai are coming into their own unique way, so it will be very interesting to see how culture influences them in that little bitty microcosm of a world." 


Ji Oh

“The cut, proportions, cleanness, and details are what’s important. It’s very minimal. I make pieces that you can throw on, are easy to wear and you can go anywhere in.”

“Being a part of the CFDA {Fashion Incubator} class has been such a fun experience, we’re learning so much about each other and about what we can do to make our brands grow better from the W and CFDA. There are amazing people in the industry, and it’s a great experience to learn from them. It’s feels like school because we share a studio, but it’s the coolest school you could have or be in.

“My room is in front of this huge, beautiful pond. Every morning we do yoga or go surfing and every evening we have a cocktail party where we get to meet and talk to everyone.”



Katie deGuzman and Michael Miller, K/LLER Collection

“If you’re wearing one simple piece it can be very elegant, but if you start layering it all together it creates a whole different look. It’s really accessible to a lot of people.”

“It’s amazing being a part of the CFDA {Fashion Incubator}. We we didn’t come from a business background, and the amount of mentors and the amount of exposure we are getting through this program is incredible. Being with nine other amazing designers and having that energy on the floor has been great. Often as designers we’re alone, it’s just the two of us, we aren’t talking to other people about what’s happening with their business. Now we’re like a little family, we’re all getting to know each other and talk about our businesses.

“What’s really cool is that since we’re some of the first people that are staying here, it feels so exclusive and it gives us the opportunity to enjoy all of it and just be together. And the rooms are gorgeous—definitely the coolest hotel room I have ever been in. We just love how they have integrated all the designs from local artisans within the rooms.”



Thaddeus O’Neil

“I make playwear using luxury fabrics from Japan and Italy. The collection is surf-inspired and beachy, basically elevated casual wear.”

"The local people here are beautiful and warm. There’s been amazing waves, I’ve been surfing every day, and the hotel is beautiful, they’ve nestled into the nature here in a really subtle way.

“We just got introduced to our mentors and I love all of them. They’re such talented, super smart people. Hopefully, they’ll keep me from hitting some of the bumps that they’ve had to hit. Before we met our mentors, they asked us to think through where our problem areas are, our sticky spots. And I think we just had to tick every box. As a designer, but also an entrepreneur and business owner, there’s so much to learn." 



Molly Yestadt, Yestadt Millinery

“I always start my collection with color. It’s about quality and a specific detailed millinery technique, which are very important to me as a designer.”

“My favorite part so far has been the beach, I like getting a bit of sand between my toes. I’m looking forward to the inspiration trips to be inspired through color and travel. I always start my collection with color, so to travel will be amazing, whether it’s the design of the hotel, the location, or the nature of the people and country, that’s really where it all starts.

“Being part of the CFDA {Fashion Incubator} program has been fabulous so far. We’re getting settled in to our studio space in New York City and it’s a really exciting time. We are excited to be partnering with W Hotels—there are great travel opportunities there. What I’m most looking forward to is working with the mentors to help develop my brand and business. We have a lot of great ideas, and we’ll be able to do some great things in partnership with the W Hotels and CFDA.”