Stacy Stube studied MA Fashion Entrepreneurship at London College of Fashion (LCF), graduating in 2010. When we last heard from Stacy, she was working in Bali having set up her own socially responsible fashion brand, Elsa Fitzgerald. Since then, she has decided to return to her hometown of Baltimore, USA, and turned her hand to reviving the city’s struggling garment industry…
Before coming to LCF I was progressing quickly on the retail side of fashion. By the time I was 17-years old I was the assistant store manager for Hugo Boss and before I was 21 I was offered to take over my own store Club Monaco, but I knew I wanted more. My colleague Mauricio asked me an important question that forever changed my life; “if you really love fashion, why don't you go for it: travel - and make this dream your reality”. Coming from a humble background I did not have the means - I was working three jobs to pay my way through school and could not see London, and the international fashion world, as part of my story. Now I look back, my truth became a reality because I was willing to fight for a dream I thought I could not reach. In the end (or should I say the beginning?) I climbed that path to where I stood on the top of a volcano in Bali, Indonesia. I had graduated on the joint program between London College of Fashion and London Business School, I became the Head of Retail for Heidi Klein and eventually moved across the world and started my own fashion company, Elsa Fitzgerald. I even wrote two books that have been sold around the world: Bali Fashion Dream and Baltimore Fashion Dream. As I type it feels like I am rattling off a resume of stories, but it is hard to define all those moments that lead you on. I love fashion and I am willing to fight for progress.
Coming from a small town left me always doubting my place in the world and in an industry that felt so big - but once I arrived in London I would not stand down. I completed an internship at McQueen in the Press Office, Temperely London in the Production Office and DVF in the Buying Office. My colleagues in the program were all doing such great things in the industry. It was through my dissertation that I built a business model based on social good. I studied a company based in Bali, Indonesia. I was so inspired by my own study that I wanted to see if my ideas would float, so I eventually packed my bags and left. After about a year building my business on the island of Bali, I visited my course mate Typhoon Samakoses. We stayed in her apartment located on top of her shop in Siam Square Bangkok. I remember when she spoke about her shop in class I thought how amazing it must be - and then there I was; standing in her sewing room surrounded by fabrics as she was measuring a client for a custom dress. For the weekend we flew north to Chiang Mai in to the green spaces and night markets. We joked about her days in Kensington to our adventures in Asia. The world felt so much more approachable and I was confident to see that as a young woman I could grab hold of the business side of fashion and be ok with starting something new.
The timeline follows seven years in London before my big move to the island of Bali, Indonesia. I spent three years building my fashion brand Elsa Fitzgerald. I went from factory to factory, fabric suppliers, artisan communities, and natural dye villages on neighbouring islands to weaving communities. I began consulting for various international brands and supporting with sourcing and product development. I learned how to build ideas into fashion companies from years in industry and course training in managing a creative venture with LCF. After wrapping up some social programming, I was able to return to my hometown to be closer to my family after 10-years away from the USA.
When I returned to Baltimore I was granted a position as the Designer in Residence for the Maryland Historical Society - Fashion Archives. I learned a great deal about conservation and the museum fashion exhibition process. The Gabrielle Dress from the Elsa Fitzgerald collection was exhibited next to the Duke of Windsor and Duchess of Windsor garments. I studied the stories and techniques that went into the museum dresses. At the same time, I was working for the last factory that remained from the original garment industry.
As I began digging into the history of the garment industry for Baltimore, I realised it was time to fight a new battle for progress – to keep sewing machines singing in Baltimore. So I took up residence at the Baltimore Museum of Industry in the Garment loft where we are bringing to life traditional methods of making with the treadle machine and hand sewing.
I have always felt that LCF as an institution, does not create followers but pioneers for change in the fashion industry. At one time, our city had over 25,000 garment workers in one city block. Now there are 30 that remain on an industrial level for the factory I manage. We are the largest in the city, but every day is a fight to stay and pave a way for the future of sewing jobs in Baltimore.
The fashion industry is connected and progress can be made if we work together, and so I would love to connect with other alumni and programmes fighting to save the apparel industries in their city.
This September 2019, the Elsa Fitzgerald Studio is opening a joint fashion program SEW Bromo and the Fashion Business Agency, to support start-up fashion brands to grow. This work involves supporting start-up fashion businesses to move from the product design idea to developing a prototype. The studio focuses on product development stateside and building the digital framework to connect with client communities online. The manufacturing process is rooted in small batch production and just in time manufacturing.
The studio is located in the building just behind my childhood home at 1100 Wicomico Street. There, you will find a community making fashion history in Baltimore. I have often wondered, why 7 years in London, and 3 years in Bali, just to come home after all this time? What was the point? Could I have just stayed and grown on my own? The answer I found which will be the lesson for my third book, London Fashion Dream: it is from those experiences that one can see the beauty that is always there waiting. It is with knowledge and distance that the truth is able to behold.
The Fashion Business Agency arm of the studio attracts a network of industry experts that work on a freelance basis as a Fashion HQ for hire. We have clients seeking product development support and small batch apparel production. They are seeking to build a responsible fashion industry through operational transparency onshore.
The key challenge that start-up fashion entrepreneurs face of finding a place to make is due to the fall in product development & production locations onshore. As these factories close and apparel trade schools close, these spaces to make a collection or trial an apparel design concept is limited. New ideas tend to be risky for traditional apparel manufacturers who decline to work from low production start-ups, and this practice tends to hamper innovation.
The way to revive the Baltimore garment industry is not with volume, but with fashion entrepreneurship through innovation - new ideas that are able to be sent to market in the form of a prototype. This allows for the test of concept that moves on to revisions, model improvements and then, when ready, a push directly to the consumer in the digital space. This limits the risk to the entrepreneur and allows for more testing and course corrections. The future of fashion is in lowered lead times and agility to move from design to market.
As for London and Bali, you gave me the spirit to believe in the impossible and make the future my reality. I will return to visit you both often, but for now, I am planting a vibrant fashion city. Thank you LCF for the confidence to ignite Baltimore's Fashion Renaissance. For so many years I sat on the fence. If that is you, do not wait - just make your way and climb one step towards the direction that calls your heart.