Since beginning her fashion empire in 1986, Chicago-based fashion designer Barbara Bates has become a dynamic leader in the fashion industry. Bates Designs has dressed some of the world's most fabulous fashionistas, entertainers, celebrity clients, community leaders and influential figures, including Michael Jordan, Oprah Winfrey, Steve Harvey, Whitney Houston – just to name a few.

A self-taught fashion designer, Bates was born and raised in Chicago. She went through Chicago's public school system and graduated from Marshall High School in 1972. She worked a variety of jobs after graduation, frequently wearing her very own designs. In 1984, she began selling her clothes during her lunch breaks while working as a secretary for the First National Bank of Chicago.

Two years later, an investment of $5,000 from a generous client allowed Bates to ditch her daytime gig, and she went into the fashion business full time. Initially, she began with a small staff, consisting of a husband-and-wife sewing team, who churned out her designs just as quickly as she could dream them. In 1988, she opened a 700-square foot showroom. These days, Bates oversees a diverse staff in a sprawling design studio in Chicago's South Loop.

Barbara Bates is known in Chicago and nationwide as a leader in creating fashionable styles for celebrities as well as the everyday man and woman. Bates was inspired by the fashionable attire her mother and aunt wore.

She began Bates Designs with a simple philosophy that women can wear anything if it fits them properly. "If it fits right, it doesn’t matter what size you are,” says Bates. "I believe that whether you’re size 2 or 22, if it’s presented right, the full-figured lady looks just as good as the smaller lady. When you dress, I believe in being age-appropriate and having something that fits you properly.”

Over the years, Bates' designs have stood the test of time. Each piece from her collection represents hard work, creativity, and an attention to detail that’s unwavering with a clear vision of what people want.


In 1999, Bates founded her charity, the Barbara Bates Foundation, to help support and inspire inner-city high school students. Today, the Foundation's mission has grown to include Breast Cancer education and awareness.

Find out more about the mission and history of the Barbara Bates Foundation. Or visit the Foundation's website to find out what you can do to support the Foundation's mission.