One might wonder how St. Louis, a midwestern city with more than 300,000 residents fits into the global fashion conversation.
Beginning in the late 19th century until the end of World War II, the city was recognized for being a garment manufacturing hub. During that era, Washington Avenue was called “Shoe Street USA” for having multiple shoe stores along the street.
The mid-1950s saw a significant increase with the number of clothing manufacturers after the creation of junior’s clothing, which originated on Washington Avenue.
After WWII, the country suffered due to production companies relocating overseas because of cheaper labor costs. A new wave of technology, imports and the development of cost-efficient superstores resulted in the decline of the St. Louis fashion district.
AK Brown, 29, professional fashion stylist and blogger, is on a quest to reshape the district and provide more diversity amongst Black creatives in the process. The first step in the right direction for her would be for all professionals to receive their own individual shine rather than everyone being lumped in together.
“We cannot throw in a montage of other people in a big diverse effort or throw one or two Black people in with a whole bunch of white people,” Brown said. “No, we need our own celebrations, spotlights, highlights because fashion and style come from Black people.”
Last November, Brown launched her Black in STL Fashion project with a photoshoot spotlighting 25 creatives including herself, who she felt deserved noteworthy praise for their contributions in the industry.
“I was just thinking in my head if I can get this to take off to start, I can continue featuring other dope creatives and provide resources to them, so they can keep doing amazing things, and we can create a community.” Brown said.
Brandin Vaughn, of Brandin Vaughn Collection, was one of the notable people Brown invited to be part of the series. As a Black man in the industry, he felt it was imperative for him to be involved with the project since he knows firsthand how challenging it can be to break into fashion.
“Like Issa Rae said, if you're Black I’m rooting for you, especially if you’re Black in fashion because we need to have our voices heard in the fashion industry.” Vaughn said. “It's time for us to stand up for our culture and really represent who we are in the fashion industry.”
His plans for restructuring St. Louis’ fashion scene are by providing designers the necessary resources they need in expanding their brand and becoming more inventive with their ideas.
“I feel like it's my job to ask companies what they offer local Black up-and coming fashion entrepreneurs,” Vaughn said. “It's about connecting the dots and finding resources that can help us all move forward and level up.”
Brown brings social media attention to Black in STL Fashion with a community Facebook group; Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/blackinstlfashion/; and Instagram page https://www.instagram.com/blackinstlfashion/.
She plans to have another photoshoot, much bigger with 75-100 Black fashion professionals. Her goal is to turn the project into a nonprofit. In the meantime, she will continue to publicly praise and highlight “dope” Black creatives in fashion via her social media channels and her personal website.
“This is for my people, for the fashion creatives in the city,” Brown said. “I want to highlight them because I have not seen other people or other groups in the city up until now do that specifically for our Black fashion creatives.”
Brown, a fashion stylist, blogger, influencer, and owner of the clothing line LA1962 is a 2010 Kirkwood High School graduate with an associate and bachelor’s degree in fashion.