Executive director leaves the St. Louis Fashion Fund | St. Louis Public Radio

Executive director leaves the St. Louis Fashion Fund

Aug 28, 2017

Updated Aug. 28 with resignation of Fashion Fund's executive director - The St. Louis Fashion Fund is looking for a new executive director. Eric Johnson has resigned after roughly a year-and-a-half on the job. A statement from the nonprofit says Johnson is leaving to pursue other entrepreneurial opportunities.

Chief Financial Officer Kathleen Rogers will be interim director.

The fund oversees the St. Louis Fashion Incubator, which is downtown on Washington Ave. It opened earlier this year with its first class of six designers.

Original Story From Jan. 8:

A member of the St. Louis Fashion Incubator's first class is counting on several factors to help his business grow, compared to its previous base in New York City: lower operating costs, cheaper cost of living and industry guidance.

Reuben Reuel has been working out of an apartment since moving to St. Louis a few weeks ago. That changes Monday with the opening of the incubator in the heart of the city's former garment district on Washington Avenue.

His clothing line depends on Internet sales and he's managed to attract customers from around the world.

"Australia, United States, Canada, China, Paris, London - it's amazing to see where the garments are actually reaching and to see people feel a sense of joy and happiness in buying clothes and wearing clothes again," he told St. Louis Public Radio, while emphasizing the move from Brooklyn should help his company's bottom line.

"My love for New York is always in my heart. But, with cost of living and expenses you have to think about all those things when running a business and growing a business," he said.

The Fashion Incubator takes up 7,500 square-feet of a Washington Avenue building on what used to be known as Shoe Street USA.
Credit File photo | Wayne Pratt | St. Louis Public Radio

"And St. Louis to me is a great place to run my business based on the fact that I run it online anyway. So I can be anywhere in the world."

The incubator provides two years of design and work space along with expertise from in the fashion industry and the business world.

The six members of the inaugural class were chosen from roughly 45 applicants representing 16 U.S. cities. The top designers were announced last summer and have committed to staying here for the program's two-year term.

After that there are no guarantees as Executive Director Eric Johnston told St. Louis Public Radio during an interview last August.

"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.”

But the benefits of leaving a crowded fashion industry landscape like New York are already registering with Reuel.

"I have time to breathe here. I have time to think here. And also expand here."

He describes his women's clothing line as something that "blurs the lines" between American and African culture and Reuel hopes to create an overall lifestyle brand. The first step will be expanding into home goods such as pillows and duvet covers and the incubator could be a key part of reaching those goals.

Reuel credits his grandmother as his main inspiration to launch a fashion career. She was a seamstress in Virginia.
Credit Wayne Pratt | St. Louis Public Radio

"I need, a sense of community and understanding of how to grow the business outside of the online business," he said.

"And with these mentors they have here. Nurturing us in finance and marketing - these are things and tools that on my own it's been difficult to kind of do."

Reuel decided to give the fashion industry a try after losing his job in 2012. He used unemployment money to launch the business, which incubator officials say has grown sales by five-times over a four-year period.

Continuing that impressive growth appears to fit with one of the incubator's core goals Johnson outlined last summer.

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

"We'll be judged by how well we're able to help grow these companies,” he said.

"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."

St. Louis Public Radio spoke with Johnson shortly after he started the job in Feb. 2016.