Phila U. alum accepted into inaugural Philadelphia Fashion Incubator at Macy’s

When 22-year-old Philadelphia University graduate Kaitlyn Doherty was 12-years-old, she announced to her parents that, all by herself, she had designed and sewn a pair of pants. Not wanting to discourage her, her parents whispered to her older brother and sister that they should act as if they admired the pants, no matter what they looked like.

“I just held up the fabric on me to see how I should cut it,” she remembers. “It was this gray-and-white sweatshirt material.”

But when she modeled the garment for the family, they were startled to see that the middle-schooler’s homemade pants fit quite well. The pants didn’t become a staple of her wardrobe; they ultimately found marginal use as pajamas. But Doherty was far from finished with fabric.

A passion for fabrics 

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

A decade later, her family’s support has paid off. After graduating from the Fashion Design program at Philadelphia University last spring, Doherty began work on her own line of handbags, which had their genesis in an accessories course at Phila U. In addition to being available through her website, they’re also slated to debut at two retail locations this month, including the Chestnut Hill shop Artisans on the Avenue.

But since Doherty won one of four Designer-in-Residence spots in Macy’s Philadelphia Fashion Incubator program, work on the purses occupies her nights and weekends.

The Fashion Incubator, founded a few years ago in Chicago and now coming to Philadelphia for the first time, is a joint initiative of Macy’s, the city of Philadelphia and Center City District, as well as local fashion design programs. In addition to providing the four designers with a 600-square-foot workspace at Macy’s Center City to develop their own product lines, the program will provide a year-long education in the field. Designers will train with industry professionals, take advantage of industry workshops, and participate in events like The Philadelphia Collection, the city’s week-long fashion celebration in September.

Part of the application process involved an on-site evaluation of candidates’ clothing designs by a panel of judges.

NewsWorks caught up with Doherty on her second day in residence at Macy’s, where some of her college creations already repose on studio racks. Her career is off to an illustrious start; last September, her work was featured on the cover of InStyle magazine after she won the top student honor in an international handbag design contest.

From sewing at school to entrepreneurial savvy

A native of Horsham, Doherty always enjoyed sewing – her mother made costumes for the local elementary school’s plays, and Doherty recalls learning to use a sewing machine at age 10. But it was during her years at Hatboro-Horsham High School that her love for design really took off. The school offered one sewing course, and she took it every year, including an introductory course as a freshman and independent studies each year after that.

She also showed early entrepreneurial savvy as president of her high school’s chapter of the Future Business Leaders of America, knowing that a career in fashion would take more than artistic know-how.

Her family encouraged her when she decided to earn her degree in fashion design and enrolled at Philadelphia University. Now, she dreams of creating accessible and versatile collections for women in their 20s and 30s, and hopes to launch and maintain her own sustainable business.

“Her dedication to her major was unsurpassed,” says Clara Henry, the university’s Fashion Program Director. Henry lauds Doherty as “an exemplary student” who was highly motivated and receptive to new ideas. Henry was particularly impressed with the research, precision and “focused energy” that Doherty always brought to her work as a student.

Materials, colors and inspirations 

The young designer particularly enjoys working with leather – “it adds something extra to any outfit” – and her favorite colors include shades of violet and plum. Another emerging influence on her work, showcased in the dress she made and wore for last week’s press conference announcing the Fashion Incubator designers, are sari fabrics of India, which she notes are seldom used in contemporary styles. The fabric of her dress, featuring black-and-gold peacocks, came from her brother-in-law’s mother, a native of India.

She finds inspiration in her travels, particularly in the architecture of England, Ireland, and Rome. A cathedral in Prague proved especially influential, for its “clean lines” and an ornate internal architecture that managed to be “grand” and “dark and mysterious” all at the same time.

The coming months will be busy ones as she divides her time between Macy’s and work on her own line of purses, each of which she personally creates by hand. “I’m so excited,” she says of the opportunities of the next year.

“She has big ideas and is not afraid to attempt them,” Henry says. “The Fashion Incubator will provide her with the tools she needs. This is the beginning of her future.”

To see some of Doherty’s other work, visit

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal