Meet The Judges Of The Caleres Fashion Entrepreneur Competition

Finalists of the Caleres Fashion Entrepreneur Competition will gain valuable face-time with St. Louis-based industry professionals that can assist in taking their careers to the next level. Even though each of the judges specializes in a different portion of the industry, their influence is strong in all aspects of business and creative development. We connected with each to see how they got their start, what keeps them motivated and why, from a professional development perspective, competitions like the Caleres FEC are vital in the growth of young careers.

 

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Ginger Imster, Executive Director, Arch Grants

How did you get your start?
I moved to St. Louis 20 years ago and have spent the bulk of my time working for small nonprofits that have a public purpose. I came to Arch Grants in 2013 following thirteen years at City Academy.

What keeps you motivated in your day-to-day?
Our people and our staff, Arch Grants recipients, donors, volunteers, angel vendors, collaborators and board members are all great motivators. My kids are also a big part of my motivation. I want them to have a sense of pride when asked where they grew up. My children understand the magnitude of the work before Arch Grants: to make St. Louis a more equitable and prosperous community.

Why are competitions such as Caleres FEC impactful for emerging creatives?
The competition brings attention and interest to designers who might otherwise go unnoticed. The money is helpful, but it’s even more impactful when tied to deep industry connections like those of Caleres.

 

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Jason Hall, Vice President of Entrepreneurship & Innovation, St. Louis Regional Chamber

How did you get your start?
Right after Governor Nixon was elected in 2008, he was trying to get more young people engaged in public service. He recruited me to assist in the mission to support young entrepreneurs and innovators. We created a state first venture capital fund for tech start-ups (the IDEA Venture Capital Fund), and from there went on to continue to assist in the economic development arena in Jefferson City. I was eager to take that mission that we launched state-wide and get back to my roots in St. Louis. The timing worked out great to join Joe Reagan’s team (CEO of St. Louis Regional Chamber) and work on making St. Louis a more vibrant place for young entrepreneurs.

What keeps you motivated in your day-to-day?
St. Louis is home and I fully believe that for this region to keep growing and reach its full potential, we have to keep supporting our local innovators and entrepreneurs. I am passionate about supporting the next generation of business owners. Seeing them succeed is seeing St. Louis succeed.

Why are competitions such as Caleres FEC impactful for emerging creatives?
It provides a unique opportunity for attracting entrepreneurs and inspiring creatives to take the next step. These competitions allow both the community and influential leaders to help move their ideas forward while giving them the encouragement they need to become successful in their field.

 

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Eric Johnson, Executive Director, Saint Louis Fashion Incubator

How did you get your start?
Accidentally. I started in healthcare and moved to fashion and economic development.

What keeps you motivated in your day-to-day?
The opportunity to work with creatives on a daily basis keeps me inspired, as well as the goal of building (back) St. Louis as a hub for fashion.

Why are competitions such as Caleres FEC impactful for emerging creatives?
Cash award, mentorship, spotlight on their business?  What’s not to like?

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Eric Thoelke, President and Executive Creative Director, TOKY

How did you get your start?
I was the creative director at several firms in St. Louis, but always knew I would be a better boss than an employeeI always ended up caring too much about the business and acting like an owner, even when I didn’t have a chance to have a real stake. Almost 20 years ago, TOKY was born out of my desire to run a design business that was focused on doing the best quality work possible, and not just making the most money possible.

What keeps you motivated in your day-to-day?
Our mission has evolved over time. When my kids were younger, TOKY took on loads of work for cultural institutions because I wanted to help make St. Louis a place where young people would want to stay, not move away to greener pastures. As my kids have grown up we’ve been freed up to move into other markets. Our Boston office is successful, and we’re opening in Denver in November. We’re getting more and more of our work in New York City, Washington DC, Boston, Denver and the eastern seaboard. But St. Louis is still home to us. Mary and I continue to build the Midtown Alley area into one of the most interesting, vibrant parts of the city, and we just moved to a condo across the street from the TOKY St. Louis office. My daughter and son live on the same block; we’re like an old-time family from Queens, hanging out together in Midtown

Why are competitions such as Caleres FEC impactful for emerging creatives?
St. Louis must come to respect its home-grown creative talents. Corporations here must stop defaulting to the coasts for creativitywhether that’s branding and design or fashionor that talent will go elsewhere. There’s talent here, and it needs to be rewarded, encouraged, cultivated. Shining a light on that talent to help it grow can yield benefits for the corporations here as well as our creative community. The smart corporations already do this, and Caleres is definitely one of the smart ones.

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Talia Goldfarb, Owner, Myself Belts

How did you get your start?
My sister Danielle and I invented and patented a belt closure to solve a practical need for my son. Our business, Myself Belts, sells belts that have an easy to use, one-handed closure that provides independence for toddlers learning to potty train, preschoolers who need an easier belt, and also teens and adults with special needs or hand-dexterity challenges.

What keeps you motivated in your day-to-day?
Two major things keep me motivated every day: our customers and the belief that our belts have the potential to help so many people.  The daily conversations that I have with customers, in which I hear how much they and their children love Myself Belts, are so fulfilling and inspire me to work hard and think creatively.

Why are competitions such as Caleres FEC impactful for emerging creatives?
It gives entrepreneurs an opportunity for exposure, feedback, networking/mentoring and of course a financial prize. The act of simply entering a competition has so many benefits: The entrepreneur must carefully assess who they are, hone their pitch and think about their goals in terms of what they want for their business and brand. These types of competitions may provide the “break” into the fashion/retail world, but they also give entrepreneurs, themselves, the ability to grow.

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Elizabeth Tucker, CEO, ALIVE

How did you get your start?
I started my entrepreneurial career in the alternative healthcare industry. Even though what we provided for our clients was very different from what we do today, there are parallels in our mission: to help people live happier, healthier lives.

What keeps you motivated in your day-to-day?
Witnessing the positive impact of the stories we tell.

Why are competitions such as Caleres FEC impactful for emerging creatives?
It will provide them with the mentorship and resources that they need to grow their business.

Applications are open for St. Louis-based fashion makers to apply through Sept. 30, and tickets are on sale to view the main event: a Shark Tank-style competition that will award one designer with $10,000 to take their business to the next level.

Featured photo by Megan Magray. All other photos courtesy of individuals that are featured, unless otherwise noted.

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