The MNY Spotlight

Meet Susan Sherman, Co-Founder of Saint Louis Fashion Fund

Introduce yourself!
I’m Susan Sherman, Co-Founder of The Saint Louis Fashion Fund, a nonprofit dedicated to the business of fashion, and MERCH, an experiential retail business, bringing global brands to the St. Louis market.

I am a lifelong lover of the arts - performing and visual - and a collector of contemporary art for homes in St Louis and NYC. I moved to St Louis from NY in 1993 and consider myself a “cultural ambassador” for STL. My husband, David, works in finance and we have two children – Sylvie who works in brand innovation in NYC and Keil, who will be a senior at SCAD in Savannah. I grew up in Jacksonville, Florida and was a classical ballet dancer for 12 years, which cemented my love of the performing arts. I attended the University of Georgia, majored in Broadcast News and worked in TV in Atlanta and Paris where my husband and I were based for three years, 1989-1992. Having lived overseas, I have an appreciation for and value the “art of travel.” We have been to many countries and I am constantly inspired and in awe of the people I meet and places I visit on these excursions. I miss traveling, as I have mostly been going back and forth to NY since the pandemic. I did manage to fit in my annual girls’ trip – our 10th anniversary traveling together – this year it took us to Blackberry Farm.

Susan Sherman Co-Founder of Saint Louis Fashion Fund

Susan wears the Iris Mini Dress in Sunkissed 

Photography by Barbi Macon

What characteristics (cultural, personality etc.) make you unique?

I was a cheerleader in high school and friends and colleagues have often commented about my enthusiasm, can-do spirit, and ability to motivate others. Perhaps that comes from cheering on the Bolles Bulldogs in Jacksonville! I spent 10 years dancing with a classical ballet company, also based in Jacksonville, and that had a huge impact on my ability to feel comfortable in front of people, make a sales pitch, close a deal. I also worked in Paris in the television industry, and wrote for an expat publication on finance. I’m always up for challenges and learning new skills. I try to be visionary and transformative in whatever I do. If the work is not challenging, I tend to move on to something else that is!

What motivated you to co-create the Saint Louis Fashion Fund?

Several of St Louis’ civic leaders approached me about opening a Fashion Incubator, similar to those in Philadelphia, Toronto, NY (at the CFDA), and other cities where Incubators were really helping to revitalize the communities they were housed in. We have a rich fashion history in St Louis. At one point we boasted a Garment District second only to NY. The Junior Size was invented here. We made the first Girl Scout uniforms and Washington Avenue in downtown St Louis was known as “Shoe Street USA.” I was intrigued and did some research at the Missouri History Museum, and found our fashion history to be nothing short of fascinating. I started a Board, who envisioned an even bigger mission - to make St Louis an epicenter of fashion once again. We had the “bones” and the drive; we just needed to “put it out there” which we did 8 years ago when we formed Saint Louis Fashion Fund. We cycled through two co-horts of designers, giving them “cash, connections and sales”; we brought a first of its kind high tech knitwear factory - Evolution STL - to St Louis; and we continue to build our ecosystem. Fashion is a $3.3 billion business in STL and we hope to double that growth by 2030.

 Who or what is inspiring you at the moment?

I’m inspired by all the arts organizations who have had to pivot during the pandemic. One in particular is American Ballet Theater (ABT). I am a former board member and just worked with the Center of Creative Arts (COCA) and Shakespeare Festival of St Louis to bring the company here as part of its ABT Across America tour. We held two free performances in Forest Park in STL and 7,000 people attended. The arts help us heal; they are food for the soul. Case in point was this incredible tour to 8 cities across the country. There are millions of other creatives/artists who are having to adjust to the current climate which is extremely challenging. Artists need to perform and shutting them out of concert halls and performing arts spaces has been so difficult to watch. So I try to support them - including those in fashion - as much as I possibly can.

Susan Sherman St. Louis Missouri

Follow along on Instagram (@fashion_police_stl  & @stlfashionfund)

Photography by Barbi Macon

What has been the most rewarding aspect of building the Saint Louis Fashion Fund?

St. Louis now “talks fashion” - as much as baseball and beer! St Louisans are proud of our fashion heritage, and realize it is an integral part of the fabric of St Louis. (No pun intended). And to see the fashion industry grow over the years since we started the Fashion Fund has been incredible. It seems like every other day I’m hearing about another fashion or accessories startup here. These companies are choosing to build their businesses in St. Louis. It’s not just the east or west coast anymore - and that makes me happy!

Why is it important to you to empower female entrepreneurs?

I have started two businesses – both were fashion/ retail focused. And each time, I found tremendous support and interest from the women in our community – several who are CEOs. So I have learned from some of the best and believe it’s my duty to continue to pay it forward. I never turn down a call from a young person “just starting out,” or an opportunity to network with a fabulous group of women. St Louis is a city which boasts many female CEOs. Three who really inspires me personally are Penny Pennington, Managing Partner of Edward Jones, Diane Sullivan, Chair and CEO of Caleres and Maxine Clark, Founder of Build a Bear. St. Louis is a perfect place for women to work and grow their businesses/brands. Please come visit and see for yourselves!

What is one thing you’ve learned this past year?

How to pivot, how to not only think outside the box but outside of “everything!” I have learned that I CAN slow down, read more, care more about meals and time for meaningful conversation. I have tried to continue to educate myself via amazing IG Lives and I have taken online ballet classes taught by dancers at ABT and the English National Ballet. So, I guess some good came out of the past 18 plus months. But I’m ready to return to whatever “the new normal” is!

How do you describe your personal style?

Classic with a twist.  The NYT’s Bill Cunningham once said, “Fashion is the armor to survive the reality of everyday life.” I dress differently every day, depending on how I feel and what I’m doing. I get such joy out of experimenting with fashion, and love to support emerging brands. I’m not fussy. I prefer cleaner and more contemporary lines. Proenza Schouler is a favorite if I had to name one! I also love interesting textiles, especially those which are created specifically for a particular designer or brand. I am a big fan of antique jewelry. My husband’s family owns three antique stores on Royal Street in the French Quarter in New Orleans – Keil’s, Moss and Royal Antiques -  so most of my accessories are antique or vintage. I adore handbag collaborations - I have a couple of treasures from Louis Vuitton and Jimmy Choo - collabs with artists like Yayoi Kusama and Richard Phillips - that I’ll treasure forever. 

What draws you to the Mestiza brand? How does your Mestiza piece make you feel?

I like the ease of the dresses, and the tassels are a fabulous twist which I love as well. They remind me of some of my late mother’s dresses from the ‘60’s. They are also timeless, which is important to me as well. They make me feel young – THANK YOU!

Susan Sherman photographed by Barbi Macon

Photography by Barbi Macon

What’s the best advice you could give to young professionals in the fashion industry?
It’s important to have some understanding of the business side of fashion, of the industry as a whole and the challenges it faces - supply chain, sustainability, etc. For those dreaming of a career as a fashion designer, it is imperative that you have something unique “to say.” To speak clearly about your line, and share your story. To find the right mentors along the way. To have a relationship with your clientele.  And finally, to know that fashion is “BIG business.” It’s not all glamour, red carpet and runway. I’m proud of Saint Louis Fashion Fund’s work in connecting so many young professionals to the industry over the years. We pride ourselves on mentoring these individuals and brands as best we can. It’s a challenging industry, but one that consistently delivers no matter what it’s up against. 

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