Emerging designers get a boost from industry leaders

Then executives at Macy's delivered a lip gloss painted future, placing Roxie's brand on Macys.com and in four Macy's stores, including two in Atlanta.

"It has been so hard to break into the cosmetics industry on a department store level," said Roxie, 29, who founded LAMIK eight years ago. "[Macy's executives] really got my product and got very passionate about it. They became my biggest advocates."

Roxie is a graduate of "The Workshop at Macy's," a new vendor development program the retail giant launched this year to create business opportunities for multicultural and women-owned retail vendors. The weeklong series had 22 participants, five of whom saw their products— everything from apparel to pet accessories — placed in Macy's stores nationwide.

The program is part of an ongoing trend in which retail's major players make special efforts to identify up and coming talent and help them gain a foothold in a challenging industry.

As part of its Southern Designer Showcase, Belk recently hosted a competition for newbie designers. The 15 winners announced this month will see their designs for sale in Belk stores this spring. At AmericasMart, the Atlanta-based wholesale market for consumer goods, a new section dedicated to emerging designers debuted last week, giving 20 start ups the chance to sell their products to boutiques around the country.

Caroline Hobbs, an Atlanta-based designer of the up-cycled clothing line Painted Oyster, had relied on selling her collection at art festivals and at Etsy.com.

"I had been thinking about doing the apparel mart, but it is so expensive when you are by yourself," said Hobbs, a former bail bondsman. "How do you get from a cottage industry to where you are shipping to stores and boutiques nationwide? Making this bridge for people like me is really nice."

At AmericasMart, Hobbs hoped to network with boutiques that would be receptive to her comfortable, casual brand of clothing, which includes vintage shirts and ties reworked as dresses, rompers and more. "Even if they don't buy from me today, I hope to be able to get my foot in the door as a serious contender," she said.

Roxie operated her own makeup studios in Houston and Atlanta, but she realized she had a lot to learn about selling to a big department store. During the weeklong workshop in New York, she learned all about marketing, production and sales. "They want to build your knowledge base so you know how to do business with a major retailer," she said. "When you're just meeting with a buyer, you don't get that kind of information."

Roxie has since increased her production capacity and staff as a result of her partnership with Macy's, which now retails her makeup at locations in Atlanta, New Orleans and Houston.

The 15 designers in Belk's Southern Designer Showcase, including two from Georgia, not only will have their apparel and accessories sold in select Belk stores and on Belk.com this spring, they will receive manufacturing and merchandising support from the same resources used by Belk, said Belk Fashion Director Arlene Goldstein.

For a new designer, that kind of boost is invaluable. But sometimes the benefits of such partnerships are less tangible.

Seeing the response to the brown satin dress and khaki jumpsuit from her EmJha collection on the runway at AmericasMart was satisfying for local designer MJ. After the show, the self-taught designer who bought a sewing machine in 2007 to learn the basics of garment construction sat in her Parisian themed booth with a laptop fired up and buyer sheets ready.

"It is a first step out. I want to make sure I am as prepared as I can be," said MJ, who is currently studying design at the Academy of Art University. "It is such a great opportunity for us because large companies are giving smaller companies the opportunity to showcase what they have."

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