Just a couple of generations ago, St. Louis was second only to New York as a center of fashion in the United States. Focused on Washington Avenue, the industry here both designed and made the shoes, boots, lingerie, and dresses — especially young women’s dresses — that helped clothe the nation.
We are bringing that action back.
Right where it used to be: on Washington Avenue, downtown.
By doing so, we are fostering the creation of new companies. Bringing more jobs and talent to downtown. Recapturing a piece of our history. Educating and mentoring fashion and design students across the region. And helping create positive buzz about St. Louis.
Washington Avenue looking east from Seventh Street – Images from the Missouri History Museum
We invite you to join us
The Saint Louis Fashion Fund (SLFF) is leveraging relationships with Washington University’s Olin School of Business, the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts, and other local and national partners. With their help and the help of Launch Collective, a New York City based company focused on business development for emerging designers, the Incubator is offering a two-year program in business, fashion, merchandising, and retail to six designers selected through a national search.
Each designer has a studio in the Saint Louis Fashion Incubator and access to shared resources: cut and sew capabilities, a reference library, conference and meeting rooms, office equipment, and a small retail boutique to show their lines. In addition to their work with faculty at the Olin Business School and Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts, the designers are collaborating with one another, with local fashion-oriented businesses such as Caleres, and with fashion industry leaders on our National Advisory Committee.
With its partners, the SLFF is stimulating local interest in the fashion industry and awareness of global fashion trends. Local business owners and designers offer access to programs, training, presentations, and the Saint Louis Fashion Incubator facility for a small annual fee. The public is invited to participate in pop-up sales by local and national designers, lectures and workshops. In addition, the designers will serve as fashion ambassadors in the community, mentoring high school and college students and other aspiring designers.
In the end — within 5 years — we expect to create a collection of successful stand-alone St. Louis-based fashion companies, with sustainable business models that are attracting funding from local or national venture capitalists.
But we think that’s conservative. Because we also expect to create a magnet — a critical mass of talent, resources and energy that will lead designers, sewers, pattern makers, photographers, and other fashion and design-related businesses to move their own businesses downtown to be close to it and to be part of a supportive network.
In other words, we believe the SLFF will do for the design community here what the T-Rex incubator has done for the IT community downtown. T-Rex, meet your match: D-Rex.
Our goal is to spawn companies and jobs. Further revitalize downtown. Stir excitement across the whole region. Capture the attention and imagination of the fashion industry nationwide.
And — by reaching back to our past — give us greater confidence in our future.
In the last 20 years, St. Louis has shown again and again that it can make exciting things happen when it sets its collective will to the task. Who would have dreamed in 2000 that more than 8,000 people would be living downtown or that St. Louis would be attracting young entrepreneurs in droves? Or that there would be so much live theater that it would be impossible to see it all? Or that the restaurant scene would be so vital that there would be two separate newspapers covering it?
The fashion industry was an exciting part of our past.
With your help, it can be an exciting part of our future, too.
Saint Louis Fashion Fund's work is generously funded in part by the Arts and Education Council.