Paris, Milan, Los Angeles, NYC and Chicago….What do these cities have in common? Fashion. While Chicago is often unfairly scoffed at by it’s city-sibs on the left and right coast in fashion related conversations, people inside the industry will confirm that the Midwest is a major market in our country’s fashion economy. And while most US clothing lines are based out of New York and Los Angeles, there is a market so large in the Midwest that successful designers often need people to manage and sell only to those accounts, which is where wholesale apparel showrooms, like Outfit Chicago, come into play.

For those of you who have never thought about how that fab top you’re wearing got into your favorite boutique in the first place, it didn’t just appear there. Wholesale apparel showrooms like Outfit Chicago, co-owned by Julie Branaghan and Kate Nardo, represent multiple designers (primarily based of of NY and LA), and travel with their sample lines to specialty and department stores in their Midwestern territory to show these lines to buyers. The buyers then consult with Kate and Julie to figure out which lines and items are a best fit for their customer. When those decisions are made, the buyers then place wholesale orders for what they will carry in their store for upcoming seasons.

These showrooms also participate in large trade shows, like Stylemax (held 4 times a year at the Chicago Merchandise Mart), where they set up their lines by booth and buyers come to them to get a good look at what they have and to place orders for upcoming seasons. And although this show is every clothes-horses dream, it’s not open to the public and only retail buyers can attend.

A look down an aisle at Stylemax April 2011

Julie Branaghan, co-owner of Outfit Chicago, showing specialty store buyers Before & Again

Kate Nardo, co-owner of Outfit Chicago, also showing a specialty store Before & Again

Fall 2011 fashion is 70’s inspired, as was Outfit Chicago’s dream-catcher clad booth.

Last week, I had the pleasure of getting an inside look at what went on at April 2011 Stylemax while working with Outfit Chicago. Buyers buy clothes for the upcomming seasons about 4-6 months prior to it’s arrival, so this shows primary purpose was to sell goods for next Fall (2011), although Spring and Summer deliveries were still available on many lines if buyers hadn’t ordered enough and needed to fill in. Big trends shownincluded: Fur, tie-dye, statement jewelry, poncho’s, flared pants, shearling, maxi dresses, updated (non-floral) prints, dark plaids and unstructured, loose fitting tops.

Here is an inside look at some must-have items for Fall 2011:

A beautiful, statement making, fur cuffed coat by Drew.

A gorgeously styled ruffle front jacket layered over a silk, tie dye top by Green Dragon

Feather earrings by Ali Oesch

Draped knit tops, tie dyes and tencel flares by Bella Dahl

California-chic tops and jackets by Green Dragon

Gorgeous, timeless detailed knits by Lola & Sophie

Another adorable statement jacket by Drew


Additional lines (not pictured) represented in the Outfit Chicago Showroom include: LinQ, Cino, Pink Lotus, Recover, CJ by Cookie Johnson Denim, Shae and Ecru.

Want to know where you will be able to find these items next Fall or want an inside industry look on a daily basis? “Like” Outfit Chicago’s Facebook page. If you are a retailer interested in carrying any of these lines, contact [email protected] or [email protected].