Catching up with Monique Levy: Jewish head of the STL Fashion Fund



Talking fashion with Monique Levy is far from frivolous. While she notes that everyone must get dressed before leaving the house each day, she also is quick to point out that fashion is much more than what we put on our bodies to wear. According to the economic development group Alliance STL, the fashion industry contributes $3.3 billion a year to the St. Louis area economy. It employs tens of thousands of people and encompasses everything from textile and apparel brands to wholesalers, importers, designers, pattern cutters, sewers, manufacturers, retailers, marketers, and sales teams, among others.

In other words, it’s serious business.

In May, Levy, who is a member of Congregation B’nai Amoona, was named CEO of the Saint Louis Fashion Fund.

The Saint Louis Fashion Fund

The nonprofit, which was founded in 2014, is committed to economic development by working in collaboration with local and regional civic leaders. As Levy explains, the Fund’s mission is to help attract, retain and facilitate the growth of businesses within the fashion, retail, and manufacturing industry.

Levy’s 10-year goal as head of the Fashion Fund is to double the amount the fashion business contributes to the city coffers each year, boosting that number to more than $6 billion.

And while that is certainly no small feat, she says she’s up to the task and is excited to bring new jobs and businesses here.

A native of Jacksonville, Fla., Levy moved from Baltimore to St. Louis over four years ago with her husband Jonathan, who grew up here, and their daughter Rebecca, now 4 1/2. Before coming to the Fashion Fund, she was director of development and operations for Gateway to Hope, a nonprofit that supports individuals diagnosed with breast cancer. She also has a law degree from St. Thomas School of Law in Miami.

The Jewish Light recently caught up with Levy to talk about her new position, St. Louis as a fashion city, and why Judaism is meaningful to her.

You’ve been in the job for about six months. What have been your top goals and priorities?

My top priority is to really focus the Fashion Fund on its stated mission and to be serious about this next endeavor. Economic development is business at its heart — it is networking, it is relationship building and it is doing both with the right people. What the Fashion Fund needs to be strategic and demonstrate that we, as an organization, are more than capable of taking on this endeavor but to do that we have to get our ducks in order, we have to have our accounting squared up and we have to have policies and procedures in place. That is what I have been busy doing, and fundraising, of course.

Can you talk about the clothes part of fashion and the business side of it and where the Fashion Fund intersects with both?

Clothes are a commodity just like anything else we purchase. There is an industry-specific sector for each type of commodity, and ours is fashion. The difference with fashion is that most people assume it’s high-end, unattainable, and inaccessible and it only works in L.A. and New York.

At the Fashion Fund, we try to look at fashion in the same way St. Louis has looked at other emerging industries, we want to do the exact same thing with fashion. You have to look at fashion for the business that it is, which is retail and manufacturing at its core, but truly it is much more than that.

The second part is showing the community what we already have. It’s putting our businesses and entrepreneurs first, it’s shopping local, it’s highlighting what is happening in St. Louis currently, and how the fund helps connect those pieces. The fund is not the center point, the fund is the connector. It’s not about us but what we can do for the community.

What effect has the pandemic had on the Fashion Fund and fashion in general?

The pandemic really affected fashion with regard to the supply chain. We’re feeling more of a trickle-down effect this year as opposed to last year. We are now seeing the backlog and it just bolsters the point that we need to reinvest in our communities and think about manufacturing domestically and what it means to buy local. As consumers, we have to be OK with a higher price point if we want things to be local.

That’s the reality of the pandemic. It made everyone take a step back and think about priorities and spending. If you want something local, handmade, or made in the U.S. are you willing to pay the extra $10 to $15 if not more to have that item?

What is the advantage of having the Fashion Fund?

It’s having that specific point of contact with someone who knows what you’re talking about and is willing to take your phone call and listen to you. The Fashion Fund serves as a trusted thought leader and as a conduit– in other words, we understand what you are going through. We understand you are serious about building your business.

It’s making those connections and opening the doors for businesses and manufacturers so that they are more inclined to stake roots here.

How would you describe your style and what makes good fashion?

I love a good capsule wardrobe. I’m a big proponent of Rent the Runway and sustainable consumer practices.

In terms of good fashion, I think it’s all about having confidence in wearing what you have on. I personally don’t do high-end labels. I’m much more about good fit than trends because in order to look good in your clothes, they must fit correctly!

How would you describe St. Louis’ fashion style?

I’d say St. Louis’ fashion style blends comfort and current trends.

How do your Jewish values inform what you are doing at the Fashion Fund?

One of the things I take to heart is not to embarrass or make people feel less than. I say this because with business and this particular industry, you can occasionally run into touchy situations. It can be competitive, and egos sometimes get the best of people.

I go out of my way to be respectful, even in situations where another person isn’t being kind or respectful toward me.