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St. Louis Fashion Fund redesigns strategy to promote local industry

The Fashion Incubator takes up 7,500 square-feet of a Washington Avenue building on what used to be known as Shoe Street USA.
File photo | Wayne Pratt | St. Louis Public Radio

The 4-year-old St. Louis Fashion Fund is shutting down its fashion incubator. The first class of six designers in the program will graduate next month. Executive director Kathleen Bibbins said the organization has received good feedback about the incubator, but it’s time for the fashion startup to “pivot.”

“We’re transitioning to a design co-op,” she said. “We will have six fashion-related businesses reside here in a collaborative workspace.”

The co-op will offer studio space and showroom/retail space initially and provide additional amenities as the program expands. Details for the co-op are being finalized, Bibbins said.

“There is a real need for a place where the creative community can learn, share experiences and collaborate,” she said. “We’ve heard from countless young designers, including the inaugural incubator class, how important community collaborations and connections are to the success of creatives in the business.”

Audra Noyes, a member of the incubator class, is from Delaware but plans to make St. Louis her home and business base. “The past two years have been an invaluable experience, one that has opened up amazing opportunities and inspired my creativity and business skills,” she said.

"We are pleased with the success each of our designers has achieved,” said Susan Sherman, chair of the Fashion Fund board. The designers have earned local and national recognition. Some of their work has been featured at retailers such as Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman. Two members of the incubator class received Arch Grants to support their brands and several designers have been commissioned to design uniforms for area hotel staffs.

In 2019, the Fashion Fund plans to expand educational programs and create a Fashion Consortium of area fashion and manufacturing companies to lobby for the local fashion industry.

The nonprofit Fashion Fund is located on Washington Avenue in what was the center of St. Louis’ garment district in the 19th century.

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