‘Creative Process’ Sparks Collaborative Ventures: A Conversation with Saint Louis Fashion Fund

The Saint Louis Fashion Fund has a vision for bringing back St. Louis’ once-vibrant fashion industry, through workshops, pop-up shops and a business incubator program for emerging designers. Though SLFF has been building buzz around the Downtown fashion scene since 2014, this summer the nonprofit organization launched a new bi-monthly event series called “Creative Process,” which aims to foster cross-disciplinary collaborations between the arts.

Creatives from all disciplines are invited to submit a one-to-two-minute video pitch, and two artists will be selected to present their project to a live audience of potential collaborators. The events will also feature speakers who have already completed, or are at work on, collaborative ventures.

SLFF Program Manager Sara Hignite spoke with us about developing the fashion industry through community building, who should submit a pitch to “Creative Process,” and the positive connections artists are already making at the events.

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Can you tell me about Saint Louis Fashion Fund’s history and mission?
Saint Louis Fashion Fund is a nonprofit organization started in 2014 by an amazing group of women who came together to make this happen for St. Louis. We’re focused on expanding and growing the fashion industry here.

The St. Louis garment district used to be a bustling place full of businesses and manufacturing, and it was a really important piece of the fashion industry. That died out, but we are hoping to bring it back. In addition to that major goal, we have other aspects to our mission, including our Incubator, where we have six designers coming in every two years and we help them grow their businesses. Our designers are incredibly talented, and they all came into the program with fledgling brands. They’ve already been in business for two to five years, depending on the designer, so we’re really a springboard for them to move to the next level with their businesses. The hope is that we’ll be able to entice at least some of them to stay in St. Louis and establish their businesses here permanently. We have one St. Louisan, Emily Brady Koplar, and our other designers are from Chicago, New York and Dallas.

What are SLFF’s goals for the new ‘Creative Process’ event series?
Our goal is really to shine a light on some of the exciting creative endeavors happening in our city. There’s so much good happening in St. Louis. I think the goodness sometimes get overshadowed, and we really wanted to bring that to the forefront. We wanted to start from a place of positivity and really celebrate St. Louis, and at the same time to be able to support future creative projects, so that all of these exciting ventures can continue and build on each other. We want to help people find collaborators and resources to bring their ideas to life.

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Is this SLFF’s first push to include disciplines outside of fashion? How does spotlighting cross-disciplinary ventures fit in with your larger mission?
We just did a wonderful collaboration with the World Chess Hall of Fame where our designers created uniforms for chess players. It ended up being a big contest, and designer Audra Noyes was the winner. She won $10,000—it was very exciting.

We have also collaborated with local arts institutions. We brought André Leon Talley to town to speak about the “Reigning Men” exhibit at the Saint Louis Art Museum, and we ended up doing a fashion show later on. We also had Jacob Berkowitz, who is a local artist and one of the speakers at the first “Creative Process” event, come to speak about this incredible site-specific fabric installation that he did in our space. So, that sort of cross-disciplinary collaboration is very much on our minds. We’re very interested in continuing to explore those sources of collaboration.

Building the creative community is very, very important to us, and it’s definitely part of our mission. When we do these events, of course it’s also a great way to spotlight the Fashion Fund and our designers, but really becoming a part of St. Louis, where people feel comfortable as a community to meet and cross-pollinate, is important to us.

Who should submit a pitch to ‘Creative Process’?
I’d love to get it out there that we’re accepting new submissions. Anyone who is interested in finding local collaborators and resources for a creative project that they want to get off the ground is welcome to submit. We’re looking for one-to-two-minute videos that explain to us their project idea. August 18 is the due date for the September 27 event. We’ll review those and choose two presenters per session to pitch.

We’re open to anything. Cross-disciplinary ideas, obviously, are important to us. We love getting ideas from all different disciplines. People who are dynamic and energetic and excited about their ideas and can convey that to an audience—that’s what we’re looking for.

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The ‘Creative Process’ event coming up on September 27 will be the second installment of this series. Can you tell me about the ideas that artists Charles Smith II, a designer, and David Alexander, a dancer, pitched at the first event held in July?
Sure. Charles Smith II is one of our six Incubator designers—he came from Dallas—and in Dallas he’s known for putting on these really amazing, highly produced fashion shows, and that’s how he introduces his new collections. It’s really an experience. People in Dallas know him for that and love his events. So in St. Louis, he wants to recreate that community he built so that he can produce similar fashion shows here. He’s looking for everything from stylists, to hair and makeup people, to models, to event production, AV, DJs—every arena that’s required to put together a fashion show event. It’s super exciting, because after the first “Creative Process” was over, there was a line of people waiting to talk to Charles and to David Alexander, who was our dancer. It was so satisfying to see that the pitching worked and that the people in the audience wanted to connect with the presenters.

David Alexander is very interested in the intersection between the commercial and the creative, with an eye toward diversity in the commercial space. That’s another thing that’s really important to the Fashion Fund: bringing in a diverse audience. We had such a diverse group at the first “Creative Process,” which was really heartening to see. David is looking for designers, dancers, videographers and people who can work with him to make collaborative videos that bridge the commercial and the creative.

For both of those project ideas, it takes a village. It’s a trite thing to say, but it’s really true. You really need so many people. You can’t pull these things off by yourself. There’s so much talent in St. Louis, and being a catalyst that brings those people together to collaborate is really what we’re trying to do.

Who should attend the event?
Anybody! Because we serve alcoholic beverages, it’s 21 and up, though kids accompanied by adults are fine. But it’s open to everyone. We want to encourage people who have never been to the Incubator to come. We want to encourage people who don’t live in the city, or who maybe haven’t been in the city in a long time, to come down and see what we’re all about, and see how we’re bringing back the garment district.

Creative Process
September 27, 6-8pm
Saint Louis Fashion Incubator
Pitch Deadline: August 18
RSVP required

Keep an eye on SLFF’s Calendar for upcoming “Creative Process” pitch deadlines and events. “Creative Process” is sponsored by Schnucks.

All photography by Wesley Law.

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