By Amanda Honigfort
Susan Sherman, co-founder, Saint Louis Fashion Fund has been on a quest to bring fashion manufacturing to St. Louis for years.
Right from the beginning, local designers identified close-by manufacturing as a critically important resource for the continued growth of our burgeoning fashion industry.
“My mission, as chair of the Fashion Fund, was to find a manufacturing operation that lock, stock and barrel would move here,” said Sherman. “A friend of mine in New York introduced me to these guys and the rest is history.”
“These guys” are John Elmuccio and Jon Lewis, co-founders of Evolution St. Louis, a forthcoming textile and knitwear manufacturing operation set to begin full-scale operations out of 3830 Washington Blvd. in Grand Center by the end of the year.
John and I have seen firsthand the retail industry evolve over the last several decades. We see an enormous opportunity to reimagine the supply chain in our category and create the factory of the future right here in St. Louis. Evolution St. Louis will be a premier high-tech manufacturing facility using cutting-edge 3D and seamless knitting technology,” said Lewis.
Knitwear is yearn-based products created through specialized machines. Yarn goes in and, very quickly, a full garment comes out of one of a bank of 10 machines working on the same item. Skoll, a leader in flat-knitting machine technology based in Reutlingen, Germany, is providing the machines that should be installed by late August. They expect to be fully operational by November or December.
“As we considered re-imagining the supply chain, we saw the opportunity to build a new industry sector utilizing the latest in high-tech manufacturing technology, and we are positioning Evolution St. Louis to address the future industry needs in fashion, retail, manufacturing and beyond,” said Elmuccio. “At Evolution St. Louis, we’re going to be at the forefront of high-tech, knit manufacturing, and our broader vision is to make ‘Made in the U.S.’ mean ‘Made in St. Louis.’”
“John and I moved here primarily because we don’t want to have just these 90 machines, we want to have 500 machines, 1000 machines, not just create 50 jobs, but 500 jobs that are sustainable and well paying – that you can raise a family on,” said Lewis.
Lewis and Elmuccio are receiving support from Ken and Nancy Kranzberg, who own the building that will house this factory and have helped re-develop and foster the arts in Grand Center through the Kranzberg Arts Foundation.
“You have not only brought jobs, you have not only repurposed an old building that was sitting here idly, but you are going to be bringing buyers in from all over the country to work with your designers to make these wonderful products,” Kranzburg said at the announcement.
“And guess what? These designers are going to be able to stay at the new Angad Hotel, they’re going to be able to dine at two fine dining restaurants that have just opened in Grand Center in the last six months. They’re going to be able to listen to the greatest blues in the world, the greatest jazz in the world, one of the greatest symphony orchestras in the world. They’re going to have their choice of five live theaters in Grand Center. They are going to be able to go to six museums, they’re going to have countless galleries, all kinds of culture, and you know what? They’ll be able to walk from their hotel less than three blocks to all those things, and less than four blocks from Evolution St Louis. What a great place, how smart you guys were, to bring your company to St. Louis, Missouri!” he continued.
When we talked to him afterward, Kranzberg shared a similar sentiment.
“As my wife Nancy likes to say, Saint Louis is the culturally richest city in America per capita, and that we are,” said Kranzberg. “The whole story of fashion, design and culture all fit together.” He pointed out that throughout Grand Center every major cultural institution has worked in or hosted exhibitions or shows related to material – expanding the fashion footprint in Grand Center makes sense to him.
Gary Wassner, CEO of Hilldun Corporation and Project Runway: Fashion Start-up principal cast member, said that he has always believed in the future of the fashion industry in St. Louis.
“I hope you all realize the opportunity and the real significance of what’s happening here today, and I really hope you realize that this couldn’t have happened in many other cities,” said Wassner. “The future for this particular facility, and for the city of St Louis, is brighter than I have ever experienced in a city with a project like this. I’m 100% in support. I do, as Susan said, finance over 400 brands and I own five or six brands, and the first thing that I intend to do is inform them all of this facility, start testing product, and start manufacturing in St. Louis.”
Wassner’s comments were right in line with the way Sherman described her work in our fashion industry.
“We are dedicated to putting St. Louis back on the map as a fashion capital once again, right up there with New York City or Los Angeles,” said Sherman. “You can’t be a fashion ecosystem of the future without production. The fact that they chose St. Louis – it’s going to be a game changer. And what I love is that we’re not just talking about St. Louis production – any designer in the United States, I don’t care if you are in New York, L.A. or Peoria is going to be able to use this facility.”
“The key, the way fashion is now, is speed to market. So when you used to get on a 17 hour flight to China and there were these ridiculous minimums and it took six months to see the product, it was almost like there was a change of season – this way, if it sells at Barney’s and they need another 200, we can do it and get it out in a week or two – so that whole speed to market and the consumers needing it now – this see it now, buy it now, have to have it or they’re on to something else, is really key with how this is going to run,” said Sherman.
She expects that this will just be the start of fashion manufacturing, and as Evolution St. Louis expands, the city will dip into other forms of fashion manufacturing as well.
“I have been a supporter of bringing manufacturing back to the U.S.” said Wassner. “I don’t think we can be a service economy and survive,”
He continued to say that he sees St. Louis as “the focal point of a city that knows how to get things done. I’ve spoken to many of you, I believe, before with this same message: you need to do this. It makes sense economically for the city of St Louis, and it makes sense for the fashion industry. So here we are and it’s just incredible.”
It’s an even sweeter moment because one of Evolution St. Louis’s founders has a strong connection to the city.
“I started my retail career here 35 years ago at Famous Barr, and I now live a block away from my old apartment,” said Lewis, “crazy how it comes full circle, right?”