Eric Johnson Shares What You Need To Know About The Saint Louis Fashion Incubator
It’s been more than 15 years since Eric Johnson has called St. Louis home, but a connection that almost seems pre-destined has led the now-New Yorker right back into the open arms of his hometown.
In an announcement made last week via the Saint Louis Fashion Fund and WWD, STL learned the highly experienced Johnson will become the newly appointed Executive Director of the Saint Louis Fashion Incubator—an organization that plans to assist in the development of emerging design talent—beginning on Feb. 1. The news sent a ripple of excitement through the local and national community—excitement for St. Louis, for Johnson and for the possibilities of what’s to come.
Located on the first floor of the Art Lofts building, I met Johnson in the currently bare space of the incubator to chat about his new role and the development of the building itself—a two-story open floor plan that will ultimately house six designers-in-residence, an education center, textile library and retail area—and find out what we can look forward to as far as the future of fashion in STL.
ALIVE: How did your connection with the Saint Louis Fashion Fund come about, and how were you connected as a candidate for the role as Executive Director of the Saint Louis fashion Incubator?
Eric Johnson: I spent 8 years in New York working on behalf of the city to further enhance New York City as a fashion capital and I was very happy doing that. The group here (SLFF) had recruited Karen Harvey Consulting to do an executive search and it was through Karen Harvey that this opportunity was brought to my attention.
I guess it was maybe a 5-6 month period of conversations and getting to know each other between myself and the Fund to determine if we were the right fit. It was an important decision to make from both sides, so it was great we really had the time to connect a bit more on a personal and professional level. I’m really happy to be the person who was selected to run this really incredible vision. I have a bond with the city—as most people that are originally from here experience—and that was definitely a point of persuasion to come back and work here and take on this role.
ALIVE: What are the next steps as far as the development of the incubator program?
EJ: I really feel blessed to be walking into a situation here that already has had a ton of work put into it. Sure, the space here is at its very early stages of being built out, but there’s so much work that’s been put into this that I feel like I am inheriting a part of something that is much bigger than me.
In terms of what will be next as I assume the role, I think there is a lot of learning that really needs to take place for me—meeting people who have been living this for the past X number of years. I want to make sure I am informed about what’s happening here in St. Louis before really making any rush decisions on what we should be doing.
ALIVE: How do you plan to use your expertise and experience with organizations like the New York City Economic Development Corporation and the CFDA to also drive support and results to the incubator efforts here in STL?
EJ: Relationships are so vitally important and I think making connections with the organizations that can really help make this mission possible is key. Although things are still in a development stage, I certainly will be looking to find ways to develop a synergy between what is happening here to what I have done in New York.
You have a group like the CFDA that I have worked very closely with that most people think is specific to New York or LA, but it really represents all the fashion designers within the States. Who’s to say that the next great designer or designers are not coming out of St. Louis? I think that this will be the type of organization that will be able to bridge the gap between the Midwest and New York market.
ALIVE: What will the actual incubator homebase consist of?
EJ: The exact details are still being determined, but we want this be an inclusive center for the fashion community—whether it be workshops, lectures or for gathering—that is definitely something that we will be looking to create. We are here on the ground floor right in the center of Downtown St. Louis, so to not have something that engages the community at a retail level, education level or otherwise, would be a real miss.
ALIVE: How can designers apply to be involved and what will the application/recruitment process look like?
EJ: It’s about talent and you certainly want to have the highest caliber designer in your space. We will be casting a very wide net to attract the best designers, but the final criteria is still being developed. My hope would be that St. Louis-based designers are applying and that there is a lot of interest on that level.
To have this be something that is successful on a long-term level, we will need to make sure that the very best are here—whether they are from St. Louis, Chicago, New York or Dallas. We are interested in talent. That’s one of my first orders of business when I get started.
ALIVE: How do you feel that a successful incubator program will further develop the goal of St. Louis to be viewed as more of a fashion-centric market than it is currently?
EJ: With any type of initiative that works on enhancing the development of a portion of a city you look for a particular leader to point to. Whereas right now, people may know St. Louis for the Arch or for the Cardinals, we really want the Saint Louis Fashion Incubator to be a leader for the redevelopment of the fashion community, growing the sector and creating a buzz. We want the incubator to be one of the first things they mention. We are in the position of being that tipping point that connects the fashion community as a whole to the city of St. Louis and it’s really exciting.
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