New York Fashion Industry Vets Plan Downtown St. Louis Apparel Factory

By Barker, Jacob | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), October 26, 2018 | Go to article overview

New York Fashion Industry Vets Plan Downtown St. Louis Apparel Factory


Barker, Jacob, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


St. Louis' efforts to re-establish itself as a hub for clothing manufacturing and design are poised to take a big step forward if a team of apparel and fashion industry veterans can pull off a plan to build a high-tech garment factory downtown.

The project, led by New York fashion and apparel industry veterans Jon Lewis and John Elmuccio, envisions a factory with about 40 apparel machines that would employ about 60 people. They hope to work with both small boutique designers and larger brands that want to move some production back into the U.S.

Labor costs are going up as the middle class grows in developing countries, and the supply chain of offshoring makes big clothing companies less able to react to consumer tastes, Lewis said. Meanwhile, e-commerce gives smaller designers the ability to market directly to a smaller customer base with a story and a "focus on their authenticity," while advancing 3-D printing and other manufacturing technology can keep domestic labor costs down.

"We feel a lot of the innovation is coming from the small emerging brands, and they have difficulty sourcing overseas because they don't have the scale," Lewis said. But there are also large brands "who would love to manufacture in the U.S., they just don't have anywhere to go."

Lewis and Elmuccio lead an investment Fund called Project I that has previously worked to invest in fledgling apparel designers in Lansing, Mich., and Detroit. But Lewis, who spent part of his early career working for department store Famous-Barr in St. Louis, said he recently moved to St. Louis to focus on the St. Louis Apparel Manufacturing venture.

"The focus is reshoring jobs to the U.S. and apparel manufacturing jobs -- that's been Project I's focus from the start," Lewis said. "It's really the right time to look at a way to bring that manufacturing back to the U.S."

Adding to the area's apparel manufacturing capabilities with a high-tech factory has been a goal for the St. Louis Fashion Fund since its inception in 2014. Co-founder and board chair Susan Sherman helped connect Lewis and Elmuccio with the region's efforts to reinvigorate its historic garment district on Washington Avenue.

"They've really helped create and re-establish a fashion ecosystem in St. Louis," Lewis said. "St. Louis has always had that historic presence" in apparel manufacturing.

The Fashion Fund operates an incubator at 15th Street and Washington Avenue, and last year took in its inaugural class of six designers from around the country, who are provided studio space, business connections and a retail showroom. …

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