A century ago, Washington Avenue was home to a thriving scene of clothing and shoe makers. In fact, many said St. Louis was second only to New York City in the scope and importance of its garment trade. The district later unraveled as the economy tightened and tastes changed, but recent years have brought a concerted movement to rebuild the industry locally. Saint Louis Fashion Fund (SLFF) chairwoman Madeline Akins has a front-row seat.
This year, SLFF is celebrating five years of efforts to rekindle St. Louis’ clothing consciousness. According to Akins, it accomplishes that by incubating emerging designers, working with community and corporate partners, and educating students and the public about how clothes are made and why the industry is important. “We focus on the history and future of design,” she says. “We want to be at the forefront of the fashion conversation here.”
Located in the T-Rex building on Washington Avenue, SLFF already has a number of successes under its belt. It reaches more than 250 students each year with on-site and in-school design classes and camps; offers a free speaker series welcoming more than 2,000 guests annually; and supports new fashion brands in a variety of ways. Akins says the organization also has been heavily involved with Evolution STL, a high-tech knitting facility slated to open downtown later this year, providing 50 new jobs.
A St. Louis native, Akins works for the Michael Kors label in New York and was named the fund’s board chair at the beginning of this year. “Being a part of the industry in my professional life, it made perfect sense to support this cause in a city I love,” she says. “St. Louis has so much potential, and there’s a great vibe on Washington Avenue—you still can see the cobblestone ‘zipper’ down the middle of the street. Today, Saint Louis Fashion Fund has a 2019 class of eight resident designers who run the style gamut. Some are new, and some have more experience. We partner with established brands like Neiman Marcus, Caleres and others to grow the local design community through them.”
Akins says the organization strives to be an economic catalyst that inspires a wide range of people through education and outreach. “We get great feedback on our programs and classes,” she notes. “People often think the garment industry is limited in St. Louis, but it’s not. Fashion wears many hats, so we do too. It’s a practical business on one hand, but it’s a creative endeavor on the other. We want everyone in St. Louis to help us celebrate it.”
5th anniversary events:
Sept. 26, 6 p.m. » Fashion Fund Goes West
A special men’s shopping event at Neiman Marcus
Oct. 19, noon » Speaking of Fashion: Dapper Dan
An in-depth discussion with the legendary designer at Washington University
Oct. 19, 6 p.m.» Fashion’s Night Out
A Met Gala-inspired anniversary celebration at Neiman Marcus, sponsored by Edward Jones
For more information, visit saintlouisfashionfund.org.
Pictured at top: 2019 SLFF resident designers