Made in St. Louis: Saint Louis Fashion Fund Incubator Turns One
ST. LOUIS, MO/January 11, 2018 (STL.News) All birthdays are special, but the birthday celebration of the Saint Louis Fashion Fund’s Incubator is especially sweet. It was one year ago when the Saint Louis Fashion Fund’s Incubator took up residence in the heart of the historic Garment District and since that time there has been a tremendous amount of progress toward recreating a fashion and manufacturing powerhouse in downtown Saint Louis.
St. Louis was second only to New York in terms of garment manufacturing from the late 19th century all the way through the end of World War II. The Saint Louis Fashion Fund is reviving the once booming Garment District and recapturing the excitement of that era by putting the city back on the national map when it comes to the world of fashion. SLFF Director of External Affairs Sara Hignite says that’s been their mission since day one. “We really are focused on reclaiming St. Louis’ fashion roots and revitalizing the downtown Garment District,” Hignite said. “Thru the generosity of private donors, different foundations and corporations we were able to pull together this campaign,” she added.
The Saint Louis Fashion Fund launched the $2 million Campaign for Fashion in 2015. The capital campaign has already reached its goal. The Incubator, a two-year, intensive program was created to offer emerging designer’s both the tools and guidance they need in order to take their businesses to the next level. The Incubator’s inaugural class kicked off last January. According to Hignite, a lot of consideration went into choosing the first six designers to participate. “We put together a panel of national fashion industry leaders and they all came together and evaluated very thoroughly the designers, their talent and their skills, and the viability of their businesses,” she said. “They would dive into each one’s business to see if they were a good fit for the program.” Once chosen, the SLFF incubator offered each designer education, tools, and mentorship.
The 7,500-square-foot Incubator building appropriately sits at 1533 Washington Avenue, in the center of St. Louis’ historic Garment District. The two floors include shared work, retail and education space, along with state-of-the-art equipment, and access to small run sampling and manufacturing. Each designer has a studio and access to share cutting and sewing capabilities, office equipment, conference and meeting rooms, a reference library, a photography studio, and a small retail boutique to show their lines. The Incubator provides world class programming and business support. “We’ve been really digging into each designer’s business to help them in areas where they might need a little more assistance, whether it be finances or business strategy or additional media strategy,” Hignite said.
Audra Noyes is one of the Saint Louis Fashion Fund designers chosen to participate. She owns her own women’s wear brand collection, AUDRA. “All six of the designers, when we entered, we were already three to five years into our businesses,” Noyes said. “So, we weren’t really launching, but we were all in critical conditions with our businesses where we could use guidance and support because those first five years are critical.”
Noyes calls the day to day conversations she’s had with mentors instrumental in her growth. “They’ve been able to align me with very strategic mentors who can answer those nitty gritty questions like looking at my finances and breaking them down and presenting me with great sales opportunities to further my clients and add revenue for my company,” she said.
On the second Saturday of every month, from 10am to 4pm, the Incubator boutique is open, bringing avant-garde, one-of-a-kind products and a unique shopping experience to the public. Hignite says it’s a special retail event. “It’s a great opportunity to interact with some of the designers which you don’t normally get to do in a shopping experience,” she said
Hignite says that through the campaign they are supporting emerging designers, stimulating local interest in the industry and building awareness of global fashion trends. “We’re working with Downtown STL and the St. Louis Development Corporation to re-brand and really create cohesive branding for the Garment District,” she said. “It will create a sense of support in the community and really brand the Garment District as a neighborhood, and let people know the history of the Garment District and how special this part of the city is,” she added. Twenty design firms from around the country are vying for a chance to help with that branding effort. “It’s a very exciting time for the project,” Hignite said. “We’ve narrowed the pool of design firms down to 6 and I believe the winning design firm will be announced in the coming weeks.”
All the Incubator designers have received national attention through celebrity placement, editorials, in magazines such as Vogue and Women’s Wear Daily, and online. Their pieces are being shown in shops all over the world. “They just keep doing more and more and it’s incredible, they’re an unbelievably group of hard working people,” Hignite said.
In the last 12 months the Saint Louis Fashion Fund has reached a number of milestones. That includes launching Miki’s Closet Fashion Truck to take their mission and vision out into the community with a comprehensive education program. Another milestone is the development of their groundbreaking “Creative Process” series. The series is attracting diverse and talented millennials to the Incubator to combine shared creative accomplishments with networking opportunities, cementing the Fashion Fund’s reputation as a catalyst for creative collaboration. The Fashion Incubator is even being honored on January 22 with the A&E Arts Startup of the Year award.
Hignite says they have a lot of exciting things planned for 2018. “We’re going to continue support our designers by working with them to really shore up their businesses and hope to encourage them to stay and keep their businesses here in St. Louis, and work on step out plans for them if they move their businesses out of the incubator,” she said.
Noyes believes that’s a very big possibility. “One of the biggest challenges for the fashion industry, in terms of manufacturing clothes domestically, is that bigger cities are one stop shops that are very attractive to young brands that don’t have large overheads, but they can be very expensive,” she said. “That’s where St. Louis has a huge opportunity because here manufacturing can be achieved perhaps at the same quality if we find the right talent and the right team at a much lower overhead.” That prospect, Noyes says, is “very attractive to young brands.”
The big one-year anniversary celebration this Saturday, January 13, will be all about the name they’re giving it…#MadeinSTL! Hignite says the idea is to create buzz about what’s happening in all of St. Louis’ businesses. “We’re basically encouraging local brands, makers of all kind, not just fashion, but also social media, to shine a light on all of the incredible businesses in St. Louis,” Hignite said.
The Saint Louis Fashion Fund Incubator Anniversary Party will include a toast with civic leaders, designers, and SLFF staff at 1:00 p.m. There will also be fun shopping including personal shopping with the designers, lots of activities, great giveaways, a very stylish anniversary cake, and the Saint Louis Fashion Fund Truck with a dazzling array of the Incubator designers’ “Made in St. Louis” brands, and a few fashion surprises. The first 25 people who come through the door will get a free burger and fries from the Shake Shack.
Saint Louis Fashion Fund Incubator Anniversary Party
Saturday, January 13, 2018
1533 Washington Avenue
Noon – Reception
1:00 p.m. – Program