“We are taste makers”; One Stylist’s Mission to Revive Garment District While Uniting Black Creatives

ST. LOUIS CITY, Mo. (KMOV) — The blue stones in AK Brown’s evil eye earring glow in his ear. He adds a pop of color to his all-black outfit which consists of a black cropped top and black leather pants tucked under his oversized blazer. She effortlessly accessorized her look with a fitted New York suede cap and understated gray Nikes.

There’s no doubt that this chic fashion designer knows how to grab attention in the simplest outfit. This mindset was instilled in him by his mother’s mantra during a personal introduction.

“My mum always said, ‘What you wear is a representation of what you want to show the world,'” exclaims the 30-year-old stylist.

Fashion isn’t just a career for Brown. She credits fashion for helping her find self-love and guiding her through her weak spots. For nine years, Brown has created an authentic and unapologetic personal brand. The St. Louis native also utilizes these characteristics as a stylist, elevating her clients’ personal style and connecting it to their own brand.

“People came to me simply because of what I was wearing, or because of my glasses, my nails or my tennis shoes. I sparked the conversation to the point where I was able to turn that random interaction into a customer,” she said, describing the impact of her aesthetic. Shunning the term “influencer,” Brown prides himself on being a “fashion connector” who can connect people together.

“I know that no matter what I do, I’m going to influence someone. Now my goal is to be a connector and bring people together to collaborate and succeed together,” she said. “It’s something we need in our industry. A sense of community.

Generally, New York and Los Angeles are known as one of the fashion capitals of the country. But in the 1920s, St. Louis stood next to the Big Apple as one of the most forward-thinking cities in the world – and the clothing district in downtown St. Louis was at the center of the conversation. Department stores, shoe and clothing manufacturers once filled blocks of Washington Avenue in the early 20th century. Gateway to the West was also the first to develop and manufacture dresses for young girls. Brown is among several local creatives working to revitalize the former fashion hub.

“There is no way to revitalize our industry if there is no representation for everyone in our industry,” she stressed. “In my nine years in the fashion industry, I have yet to see the focus on black and brown people in fashion.”

Brown exclaims that she changed that with her Black in St. Louis Fashion Project. The non-profit organization was established in 2020 to provide a platform to unite local black professionals. At the start of Black History Month, the group launched an editorial shoot, titled “A Seat at Our Black Table,” which spotlighted underrated trailblazers from all walks of the industry. From designers to model scouts, 25 creatives wore black when posing while showing how they maneuvered in their element.

It was hard to narrow down the list, but Brown said some creatives, like Dwight Carter, were key to the project.

“He has been in this industry for almost 20 years. He hosted fashion contests and was involved in contributing to and producing St. Louis Fashion Week,” she said. “These are people who have been in this industry for years beyond me and have yet to receive the flowers or the recognition they are due,” she expresses frustration over local creatives not getting their accessories.

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“In the fashion industry, we only like to jump on the black bandwagon when it benefits the white stakeholder,” Brown adds. “We [are] in black history month and everyone wants to buy black but what on march 1st.. not february 28″

It is now the second week of March and the majority of campaigns that highlighted black culture have disappeared from the airwaves but the influence remains.

“What is discriminated against in our culture is taken, it is whitewashed, it is put on the track and its price goes up,” she said. “Black people are tastemakers in our industry. I believe in it wholeheartedly and will promote it until the day I leave this industry.

This discrimination can be felt by the plus size community, according to the fashionista. She thinks the industry is focusing on what’s “acceptable” instead of focusing on body inclusivity.

As she strives to preserve and diversify St. Louis’ fashion scene, Brown’s project includes 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 college to really expose them to work in our industry and then from there help them find jobs,” she added.

Brown has several resources and information on Black in St. Louis Fashion in line.

Michael O. Stutler