Harris: Maria Pinto launches fashion line on Kickstarter

Designer opts for crowd funding, cutting out retailers

Chicago fashion designer Maria Pinto this week has launched her first clothing line since 2010. It's on Kickstarter, the crowd-funding website.

"There's a lot of liberating elements to doing it this way," she said. "Because I get really close to my clients. I see what they're going to order and what they don't order. Not that I hadn't always done that. But the Internet gives you so much more information and so much more connectivity."

It also cuts out retailers. And that, in turn, has allowed Pinto to lower her prices and not cater to the preferences of buyers for national chains. Pinto said the line, called M2057, is made with high-quality fabric from Italy. But she has streamlined construction so the pieces are "less labor-intensive" than her former luxury lines, she said.

A dress or jacket is priced at $250 on Kickstarter. But Pinto won't receive any of that money until the fundraising campaign hits its $250,000 goal. And she has about 40 days to get there.

A successful campaign would signal a comeback for Pinto, who closed her Chicago boutique in 2010, citing the recession. She joined Mark Shale in 2011 as creative director only to leave about seven months later. The retailer declared bankruptcy in 2012.

"In hindsight I look at things and go, 'OK, what could I have done differently?'" Pinto said. "And then to be honest, at some point, you just have to shut that off."

An e-commerce site, designed by Chicago Web design firm Table XI, will launch after the Kickstarter campaign concludes, she said.

Mileage tracker

Serial Chicago entrepreneur Howard Tullman this week joined the board of Atlanta-based startup Vehcon, which makes an app that helps track a vehicle odometer reading and then shares that data with insurance companies and repair shops — with the driver's permission.

"The more you know about the mileage, the more you know about the risks of insuring that car," Tullman said. Insurance companies "are all trying this solution where they give you this device and it measures your usage for 30 days, and then we give you a discount if you're a safe driver."

Vehcon CEO Fred Blumer "thinks that'll never be adopted in bulk," Tullman said. "So they've built an iPhone application that permits you to just take an authenticated photograph of your odometer reading and send it in once a month."

Motorists on usage-based insurance plans would then get discounts on their premiums for driving less, as well as reminders and digital coupons for regular maintenance, such as oil changes.

Tullman also is thinking far into the future, pointing out that if electric cars take off, revenue from gas taxes would plummet. And those dollars pay for road improvements.

"One of the things is going be: Could Illinois be one of the first states that starts tracking usage of the vehicles, rather than taxing based on the amount of gas you buy?" Tullman asked. "It's the only way we're going to transfer to cars that are more efficient without the state losing all of this revenue."

Starring role for mayor?

If you've seen Rahm Emanuel at a public event recently, there's a good chance you've noticed a camera crew nearby — one not from a local television news outlet.

A documentary team is shooting an eight-part series for CNN called "Chicagoland," which is expected to feature Emanuel as a central figure.

The mayor has a reputation for trying to control his public image. And in this case, the producers have made a hiring decision that could be seen as fanning that perception.

One of the show's field producers is Phillip Koch, the brother of Emanuel's deputy mayor, Steven Koch.

Marc Levin, one of the show's four executive producers (along with Robert Redford, Laura Michalchyshyn and Mark Benjamin), downplayed any potential conflict of interest, saying that when he hired Phillip Koch he didn't know of the connection. He said he didn't even know Chicago had a deputy mayor. Instead, Levin said he approached Koch on the recommendation of a mutual friend with whom he went to high school.

"I called Phillip when I came to Chicago on one of these preliminary trips, and we got together, and we hit it off," Levin said, adding that he was impressed with Koch's knowledge of Chicago history. "It wasn't till a while later, we're working together, that I found out his brother was the deputy mayor. I've never met his brother actually. And I had to ask him, 'What is the deputy mayor? What does the deputy mayor do?'"

Phillip Koch, who declined to comment, has more than 25 years' experience in Chicago's film industry and has a regional Emmy Award to his name. And he's not in charge of the series. It's one of Levin's jobs, not Koch's, to oversee the editing of "hundreds and hundreds" of hours tape down to an eight-hour series.

Levin said Koch instead has been leading a film crew focused on cultural and business-related coverage, taping events such as a Ramsey Lewis concert and a visit to the restaurant Alinea. He said Mark Konkol, a journalist with DNAinfo.com Chicago, also is a consultant on the series. And he named Gina Barge, daughter of saxophonist Gene "Daddy G" Barge, as a field producer and Craig J. Harris as a producer.

But in the realm of local politics, having a sibling helping film a documentary series that's at least partially about your boss would seem about as Chicagoland as it comes.

"It's about the city of Chicago, not about the mayor," said Sarah Hamilton, Emanuel's spokeswoman. "It's focused on the city as a whole."

Melissa Harris can be reached at mmharris@tribune.com or 312-222-4582. Twitter @chiconfidential.

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