#STLFW: Midwest Fashion Conference

by Lace Nguyen

Fashion as a Civic Agenda Recap

Saturday morning a swellegant crew of fashion insiders, bloggers and entrepreneurs gathered in Steinberg Auditorium at Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts, Washington University to partake in the Midwest Fashion Conference - first of its kind and also the last official event during St. Louis Fashion Week. Coffee and breakfast were generously offered (to cure any bad case of hangover from last night’s St. Louis Fashion Fund Gala), after which the conference kickstarted with a panel discussion on “Fashion as a Civic Agenda”, hosted by the legendary Fern Mallis, Creator of New York Fashion Week. 

The panelists included Stan Herman (Former CFDA Executive Director), Gary Wassner (CEO of Hilldun Corporation), Timo Weiland (Fashion Designer) and Derek Blasberg (Harper’s Bazaar Editor-at-Large and such a heart-throb). Under the topic of civic agenda, Wassner pointed out that “we’re seeing an integration of government, political and social organizations into fashion weeks”, stressing that fashion is one of the most sustainable and profitable industries, one with constant demand and an ever-evolving workforce to benefit the city and keep the community involved. 

Citing examples from the early days of NYFW and the CFDA Fashion Incubator Program when they managed to find funding, marketing, and mentorship, Herman and Mallis encouraged St. Louis to do the same and reach out to financiers who can directly benefit from the fashion week activities. Those are not only fashion companies but also magazines, city administration and local entrepreneurs. 

Derek Blasberg discussed the revival of “bought in America, made in America” clothing status, elevating it to a lifestyle. Weiland agreed with Blasberg and also looked at it from a designer’s viewpoint: Timo Weiland’s manufacturing process just moved back to New York from China, which he found “so much more fulfilling” thanks to the ability to supervise from A to Z, better quality and less returning rate; however, there’s limited space in New York and if St. Louis, equally distant from east and west coasts, could provide manufacturing facilities that would be our crucial step to become the next fashion hub.

About the next step for fashion entrepreneurs, Wassner echoed Mallis in her advice “be nice”, but looked at it from the perspective of a financier who always has a myriad of options to consider. He urged everyone to be sincere, never be entitled, make friends and create long-lasting relationships. Wassner’s second advice is to raise awareness of the value of local manufacturing, which in turns would change consumer attitude about local shopping.

The highlight of the discussion came during Q&A when Designer Susan Barrett - read more about this fabulous woman here -  with amusement rather than bitterness, posed the questions that had been sitting at the back of everyone’s mind, regarding the so-called St. Louis inferiority complex. “I mean we still talk about the World’s Fair”, she said, “I put on a show last year and people said ‘I can’t believe this is from St. Louis’”.  The audience imploded. 

Comments about unused resources and a lack of cohesion in the fashion scene started to pour forth. The panel, again, affirmed that St. Louis had everything to create a “cool, fashionable atmosphere”, rounding off with Fern Mallis’ proposing the campaign hashtag #STLOUISISALIVE (sounds awfully comical to me), which would be deeply appreciated by Elizabeth Tucker and her wonderful team at ALIVE Magazine. Hats off to them for putting together such an insightful and inspiring conversation.

Photo credit: David Vassalli