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St. Louis Fashion Incubator announces first class of designers

Emily Koplar - Wai Ming
Provided by St. Louis Fashion Incubator

Updated 11:48 a.m., Aug. 25 with inaugural class announcement -  A local designer is part of the St. Louis Fashion Incubator's first class. Emily Koplar is one of six people chosen to go through the two-year program aimed at supporting the businesses and boosting the city's fashion-related economy. She is founder of the Wai Ming women’s clothing line. Other members of the inaugural class are from the New York City area, Dallas and Chicago.

Here are the six selected by judges Wednesday, Aug. 24 in New York City:

Emily Koplar

The St. Louis native launched her clothing line in less that a decade ago, with a focus on high-end boutiques.

She has an economics degree from Boston University and a degree from Parsons School of Design in New York City. Koplar spends most of her time in New York and St. Louis. The fashion line name, Wai Ming, means gift of light in Chinese.

Allison Mitchell

Based in Dallas, Allison Mitchell Handbags launched after a buyer from a local boutique found out about the hand-clutch she had been producing for friends and family.

Allison Mitchell, Designer
Credit Provided by St. Louis Fashion Incubator
All of the handbags on the Allison Mitchell label are produced in the United States

Mitchell now has clients in several countries including France, Egypt and Japan. DFWStyleDaily.com reports she went to culinary school and worked at a California restaurant owned by one of the experts on the TV show Iron Chef.

Agnes Hamerlik

The woman behind the Hamerlik womenswear brand was born in Poland and is currently based in Chicago. She earned degrees, including one in fashion studies, from Columbia College.

Agnes Hamerlik-Desinger
Credit Provided by St. Louis Fashion Incubator
Hamerlik's work has been highlighted during New York Fashion Week in Lincoln Center.

Her work has been featured at events including Chicago Fashion Week. She has also worked with the Art Institute of Chicago and several high-profile galleries throughout the U.S.

Donald Charles Smith Brame II

The Dallas-based designer is originally from Harlem, N.Y. He is the person behind the Smith II and S2 by Smith II brands.

Donald Charles Smith Brame II - Designer
Credit Provided by St. Louis Fashion Incubator
Brame's list of clients includes Zoe Kravitz, daughter of musician Lenny Kravitz

Before fashion, he walked down runways and ran around basketball courts.

The former National Basketball Association Development-League player became a model and then a designer.

He also lived in Milan, Italy during his teens and early 20s.

Audra Noyes

Based in New York City with strong ties to Wilmington, Delaware, Noyes earned a Bachelor in Fine Arts degree from the Savannah College of Art and Design in 2010.

Audra Noyes - Designer
Credit Provided by St. Louis Fashion Incubator
While learning her craft, Noyes received scholarships from Cotton Inc. and the YMA Fashion Scholarship Fund.

She spent time in Paris and launched her AUDRA brand in 2013.

The womenswear line has been several international publications including Vogue Japan, Vogue Mexico and Tatler Russia. The brand is based in New York City.

Reuben Reuel Riddick

He grew up in Virginia Beach, Virginia. But the womenswear line, Domestik by Reuben Reuel is based in New York City.

Reuben Reuel Riddick
Credit Provided by St. Louis Fashion Incubator
Riddick credits his grandmother's skill as a seamstress as his main influence to launch a fashion career

His education reaches from Virginia Beach Tech Center to Norfolk State University and eventually the Art Institute of New York City. He has partnered with Etsy.com, which allows direct sales to women throughout the world. A release from the St. Louis Fashion Incubator states sales have grown 5-times since the brand's 2012 launch.

Original Story from Aug. 24, 2016 -

As a fundraising campaign closes in on a $2 million target, judges in New York City are set to announce the St. Louis Fashion Incubator’s inaugural class. Six designers will be selected this week to take part in the two-year program that will be based in downtown St. Louis.

Eric Johnson, the incubator’s executive director, recently spoke about the process with St. Louis Public Radio’s Wayne Pratt.

The Program Goal

The initiative attracted 43 applications from 16 cities throughout the United States. Organizers wanted to bring in the best “emerging talent” that would cover all aspects of the industry. They are also looking for a mix of creativity and business acumen. “It’s about all of the really interesting aspects of fashion that provide for the economy,” Johnson said. “So we want to make sure that these are robust businesses that were then able to accelerate and grow."

Choosing the First Class

Judges in New York City will convene this week to go through the 12 semi-finalists and pick six winners. The panel is a strong representation of several areas of the industry.

St. Louis Fashion Incubator Executive Director Eric Johnson is a John Burroughs High School graduate with experience as the leader of New York City's fashion and arts initiative.
Credit St. Louis Fashion Incubator
The John Burroughs High School graduate has experience as the leader of New York City's fashion and arts initiative.

“We have a number of jurors who are from fashion schools, from the retail side, from really the fashion side,” Johnson said.  “Then you have folks like myself who sort of straddle both areas. My background really is an economic development.”

The Next Steps

The program starts in January. But some of the designers could be in St. Louis in late fall. Organizers hope to have some area designers among the final six. Those who move here will have to commit to staying for the program’s two-year term. “There's no direct way that we'll be making sure that they stay in St Louis after the program,” Johnson said. "There are business people and entrepreneurs and they need to do what's best for their business whether they stay in St Louis or they move back to their home city or they move to another city.”

How Will The Incubator Be Judged?

The core mission involves the combination of fashion, economic development and job creation. The goal is to give each member of the class of six the tools to be successful beyond the two-year program. “We'll be judged by how well we're able to help grow these companies,” Johnson said  “It's an incubator right? We're sort of the mother hen and we want those chicks to grow and to become companies that are able to stand on their feet and to do great work."

Covering Startup Costs

St. Louis Fashion Incubator at 1533 Washington Ave.
Credit St. Louis Fashion Fund
The incubator will be in the historic building at 1533 Washington Avenue in downtown St. Louis.

The St. Louis Fashion Incubator is housed in the T-Rex co-working space in downtown St. Louis. Work continues on a permanent space in the city’s Historic Garment District. Plans call for Johnson and his team to move into the Washington Avenue space in a few months.

But that takes money.

The effort is in the midst of a $2 million capital campaign and roughly $1.3 million has been raised so far. The money will help with building the space and three years of operating expenses.

Follow Wayne Pratt on Twitter: @WayneRadio

Wayne is the morning newscaster at St. Louis Public Radio.

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