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As COVID-19 Stalls Sales, St. Louis Fashion Community Taps Into Creativity For Support

Former Project Runway star and St. Louis fashion designer Michael Drummond and his team produce hundreds of masks for the St. Louis Fashion Fund mask productiton efforts.
St. Louis Fashion Fund
Former Project Runway star and St. Louis fashion designer Michael Drummond and his team produce hundreds of masks for the St. Louis Fashion Fund mask production efforts.

Like restaurants in the St. Louis region, local fashion businesses are either downsizing or shutting down indefinitely because of the pandemic.

Although many fashion designers and boutique owners have moved to online sales or are mass producing stylish face masks, the unexpected downturn in the economy has left designers and fashion entrepreneurs in limbo.

To help stabilize St. Louis’ fashion scene, on April 20, the St. Louis Fashion Fund, Fashion Group International of St. Louis, the Women’s Creative, Lusso, 2Lu and the Experience Booklet have launched a social media campaign to raise funds socially to benefit nearly 100 retailers in the area.

“It's really just a way to help spotlight this huge industry in St. Louis,” said Jessica Conick, Fashion Group International of St. Louis regional director. “People might not be thinking about [fashion] right now because they're focused on the local restaurants.”

How to help

In March, the Women's Creative and the Experience Booklet started the movement "314 Together," via Facebook as a way to show support to regional businesses. Local shop owners from 2Lu and Lusso took notice and created apparel to support the movement. 

The St. Louis Fashion Fund and the Fashion Group International of St. Louis saw this as an opportunity to collaborate with the movement to promote fashion companies in the region and ask for the community's support. 

Several local fashion designers and their teams have shifted from business as usual to producing mass amounts of masks for the general public.
Credit St. Louis Fashion Fund
Several local fashion designers and their teams have shifted from business as usual to producing large numbers of masks for the general public.

Through the campaign, each participating store will sell #314Fashion paraphernalia, and a percentage of the sales will be donated to the Gateway Resilience Fund — a fundraising initiative that supports local small businesses. 

Supporters are asked to post photos — using the hashtags #314Fashion and #314Together — showcasing their T-shirts and other items purchased on their social networks to raise awareness about the fashion movement and engage others in conversation about why they should support fashion in St. Louis.

The St. Louis Fashion Fund and Fashion Group International of St. Louis are at the forefront of revitalizing the city’s fashion scene. Conick said both groups were concerned about St. Louis’ fashion designers and their businesses because they knew most storefronts were closed for business and designers' sales were plummeting. 

Tapping into creativity

St. Louis’ Garment District off Washington Avenue is home to the St. Louis Fashion Fund. It is an incubator that provides local fashion designers with resources to scale their fashion companies locally and globally. Eco-friendly bag designer Lisa Hu operates her business out of its lab. Before the pandemic, Hu said her company — Lux & Nyx — was projected to grow substantially this year, but now she is rethinking her financial model because her sales have dropped tremendously since the start of March. 

“Our products are very travel-oriented. People are staying home and because they're staying home it's very hard to tell them that there's a huge need for products that are for just going about and going to different places," Hu said. “So I think in general, they don't necessarily see the need at the current moment to purchase things.”

Hu is planning to launch a kickstarter campaign in June to generate additional revenue. Through the crowdfunding initiative, customers will be invited to curate the next sustainable product line for Lux & Nyx. The campaign will feature an interactive process for consumers and offer rewards as well. 

“We need to realize doors aren't closed, people are still operating and the operational costs are still there. People are controlling their operational costs and we can use every support that we can get,” Hu said. 

Local fashion organizations and designers like Hu are optimistic about the future of fashion in St. Louis but are aware that it will take some time to rebuild.

“I think [St. Louis fashion] is going to transform. It's just having its ebb and flows,” Hu said. “The best thing for brands is for them to hunker down and say what value can you provide to your consumers.

“And then as local community consumers, the best way for them [businesses] to get the monetary or non-monetary support is just to have that conversation with them. That connection was there before, it's not going to just disappear,” she said.

Follow Andrea Henderson on Twitter: @drebjournalist

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Andrea covers race, identity & culture at St. Louis Public Radio.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.