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Just about everybody, it seems, is dabbling in designer incubators these days, with this very website reporting on a new accelerator program more often than we can keep track of at times. Since January, L'Oréal, H&M, Topshop, Tory Burch and Sephora have all announced plans to launch fellowships for up-and-coming talents in the fashion and beauty industry, with surely more on the way very soon.
The latest offering in this field is one of the most intriguing yet — the Saint Louis Fashion Incubator (SLFI), which is now accepting applications for its inaugural class of six designers. Backed by both the Saint Louis Fashion Fund and Washington University in St. Louis's Olin Business School, the two-year program is set to provide financial support and educational opportunities, as well as a free 7,500-square-foot workspace in the city's garment district, to its chosen members.
And no, you're not alone in thinking that the 300,000-person city isn't exactly known to be a hotbed of fashion activity (I'm from the Midwest! I get it!), but the SLFI is working to change just that. The program has recruited an impressive roster of panelists to select incubator participants, including Fern Mallis, Refinery29 Global Editor-in-Chief Christene Barberich and SCAD School of Fashion Dean Michael Fink. Missouri-native Eric Johnson, formerly the "fashion czar" of New York as the vice president of fashion and arts at the city's Economic Development Cooperation, will serve as the SLFI's executive director.
Between the city's significant arts community, a commitment to its fashion scene and a notably low cost of living, Saint Louis is, objectively, a healthy place to build a design business. It's not like SLFI members will have any trouble finding models to appear in their ensuing runway shows, presentations and lookbooks, either — the Midwestern borough has churned out quite a few top models in recent years, including Karlie Kloss, Molly Bair and Devon Windsor.
Applications for the SLFI's 2017-2017 inaugural class can be submitted online now through July 14. Interested designers can head to SaintLouisFashionIncubator.org for more information.
Update, 8/25: The Saint Louis Fashion Incubator has selected its six designers, and they are:
- Donald Charles Smith Brame II (Smith II), Dallas, TX
- Agnes Hamerlik (Hamerlik), Chicago, IL
- Emily Koplar (Wai Ming), St. Louis, MO
- Allison Mitchell (Allison Mitchell), Dallas, TX
- Audra Noyes (Audra), New York, NY and Wilmington, DE
- Reuben Reuel Riddick (Demestik by Reuben Reuel), Brooklyn, NY
The SLFI's "Inaugural Six" were chosen from a pool of 43 applicants coming from 11 states and 16 cities across the U.S. Applications were accepted in the following categories: men's and women's ready-to-wear, children's and accessories (jewelry, shoes, handbags and millinery).
SLFI's two-year residency program kicks off Jan. 2, 2017.