“We are tastemakers”; A stylist’s mission to revive Garment District while uniting Black creatives
ST. LOUIS CITY, Mo. (KMOV) - The blue stones on AK Brown’s statement evil eye earring gleams in her ear. It adds a pop of color alongside her all-black attire which consists of a black crop top and black leather pants nestled underneath her oversized blazer. She effortlessly accessorizes her look with a New York suede fitted cap and muted gray Nikes shoes.
There is no doubt that this chic fashion stylist knows how to command attention in the simplest outfit. That mindset has been instilled in her through her mother’s mantra on personal presentation.
“My mom would always say, ‘What you wear is a representation of what you want to put out to the world’,” the 30-year-old stylist exclaimed.
Fashion is not only a career for Brown. She credits fashion for helping her find self-love and navigating her through her low points. For nine years, Brown has created a personal brand that is authentic and unapologetic. The St. Louis native also uses those characteristics as a stylist by elevating her clients’ personal style and connecting it to their own brand.
“People have come up to me simply based on what I was wearing, or because of my glasses, my nails, or my tennis shoes. I have sparked conversation to the point where I was able to turn that random interaction into a client,” she said, describing the impact of her aesthetic. Shying away from the term “influencer”, Brown prides herself on being a “fashion connector” who can link people together.
“I know regardless of what I do, I’m going to influence someone. Now, my purpose is to be a connector and bring people together to collaborate and be successful together,” she said. “That’s something we need in our industry. A sense of community.”
Typically, New York and Los Angeles are synonymously known as one of the fashion capitals in the nation. But in the 1920s, St. Louis stood next to the Big Apple as one of the top trendsetting cities in the world -- and the Garment District in downtown St. Louis was the center of the conversation. Department stores, shoe, and clothing manufacturers once filled blocks of Washington Avenue in the early 20th century. The Gateway to the West was also the first to develop and manufacture junior-misses dresses. Brown is among several local creatives who are pushing to revitalize the former fashion hub.
“There’s no way that we can revitalize our industry if there’s no representation for everyone in our industry,” she emphasized. “In my nine years of being in the fashion industry, I have yet to see a focus on Black and brown people in fashion.”
Brown exclaims she changed that with her Black in St. Louis Fashion Project. The nonprofit was formed in 2020 to provide a platform to unite local Black professionals. At the beginning of Black History Month, the group launched an editorial shoot, titled ‘A Seat at Our Black — Table’, which highlighted underrated trailblazers from all spectrums of the industry. From designers to model scouts, 25 creatives wore all black as they pose while showcasing how they maneuver in their element.
It was hard to narrow down the list but Brown said certain creatives, like Dwight Carter, were vital to the project.
“He’s been in this industry for almost 20 years. He has had fashion competitions and has had his hand in the contribution and production for St. Louis Fashion Week,” she said. “These are people that have been in this industry for years beyond me that have yet to receive their due flowers or recognition,” she vents her frustrations on local creatives not getting their props.”
“In the fashion industry, we only like to hop on the Black bandwagon only when it’s beneficial to the white stakeholder,” Brown adds. “We [are] in Black History Month and everyone wants to buy Black but what happens on March 1.. not Feb. 28″
It’s now the second week of March and the majority of the campaigns that highlighted Black culture have disappeared from the airwaves but the influence remains.
“What we get discriminated against in our culture is taken, it gets whitewashed, its put on the runway, and it’s jacked up in price,” she said. “Black people are tastemakers in our industry. I wholeheartedly believe that and I will promote that until the day I get out of this industry.”
That discrimination can be felt by the plus-size community, according to the fashionista. She believes the industry is focusing on what is “acceptable” instead of honing in on body inclusivity.
As she strives to preserve and diversify the St. Louis fashion scene, Brown’s project has three small business grant programs that offer recipients to use the funds for business expenses.
“Most of us aren’t trying to be an entrepreneur. I really want to work with our juniors and seniors in high school or in college to really expose them to work in our industry, and then from there, help them with securing jobs,” she added.
Brown has several resources and information about Black in St. Louis Fashion online.
Copyright 2022 KMOV. All rights reserved.