Two Clothing Industry Pros Want to Revolutionize U.S. Apparel Manufacturing with Evolution St. Louis

Updated: Aug 19

By St. Louis Magazine


This article was originally published in St. Louis Magazine on July 28, 2020. We are sharing because it features a city likely to be one of the next key hubs for U.S. apparel manufacturing (for both knitting and cut-and-sew).



Businessmen John Elmuccio and Jon Lewis worked together in the ’90s. Though the two men’s careers pulled them in different directions—both including stints at Fortune 500 apparel companies—they often ran into each other. They realized that they shared a dream and the experience to help make it a reality. The idea came to fruition last May when they announced plans to open Evolution St. Louis, a $5 million knit garment–manufacturing company housed in a 32,000-square-foot facility on Washington Boulevard that they believe will change the market and the city.


Why did you decide to build a high-tech knitting factory in St. Louis?


Lewis: We first looked at this in New York. We were both living in New York and said, “Let’s make it in the Garment Center, the Garment District,” and all that made sense. But we recognize two things: The Garment District is too expensive of real estate. Even on the manufacturing side, it became implausible. It just didn’t make sense. Plus, even if you paid someone at what we would consider a sustainable, reasonable wage, it doesn’t mean anything in Manhattan. You need to make $60,000 a year just to buy Starbucks and commute into the city… Then we met Susan Sherman and the team from the Saint Louis Fashion Fund, and they said, “Don’t sign anything! Come talk to us.” [St. Louis] is where we found our home, because the real estate quotient is really competitive, it has this arts culture, and it has this historic narrative of being the Garment City. Then education—Sam Fox School is the second-oldest urban design program in the country, facilities like Ranken Tech, St. Louis Community College, work development programs—so we can hire employees [from here]. It became a great mix coming together to make true economic development.


Elmuccio: St. Louis used to be the second-largest apparel manufacturer in the United States. That’s the heritage this community is trying to recapture. That was the tipping point for us.

How do you hope Evolution St. Louis will change the city’s economy?


Lewis: We moved here to create an industry sector. I think this is a billion-dollar opportunity. We’re going to create 50 to 60 jobs in this facility, 50 to 55 machines in here. We envision 300 people working in this industry and envision 300 to 400 of these machines in various places within the city. We’re talking about re-imagining the supply chain, not just for fashion apparel but for manufacturing in general. This is green manufacturing, too—every part of our facility and every part of what we’re doing can be put in an urban setting where you can live, eat, work, and play within a 20-minute walk or bike ride.


How do you hope Evolution St. Louis will change the city’s economy?


Lewis: We moved here to create an industry sector. I think this is a billion-dollar opportunity. We’re going to create 50 to 60 jobs in this facility, 50 to 55 machines in here. We envision 300 people working in this industry and envision 300 to 400 of these machines in various places within the city. We’re talking about re-imagining the supply chain, not just for fashion apparel but for manufacturing in general. This is green manufacturing, too—every part of our facility and every part of what we’re doing can be put in an urban setting where you can live, eat, work, and play within a 20-minute walk or bike ride.


Why is having a green facility important?


Elmuccio: The garment industry is one of the largest contributors to landfills in the world. The [Stoll] machines only have 3 percent waste, so it’s a huge difference.


Lewis: We chose to refurbish a building, rather than build one. From the HVAC system to plumbing to lighting—in every aspect, we took a look at being sustainable and reducing our carbon footprint.


Can you explain how a knitting factory can bring in such high revenue?


Lewis: [The apparel industry] is about a two-and-a-half-trillion-dollar industry where 35 percent [of product] is some sort of knit. Then you couple in shoe uppers, athleisure, military and medical equipment, automotive opportunities. In addition, there are brands that focus 90 percent of their company on knit. Those are brands we can service, and we’re already talking to most of them. We’re focusing on the contemporary luxury designer market and direct-to-consumer brands.


How do the Stoll flatbed knitting machines streamline the knitting process?


Elmuccio: If people can envision 3-D printing, this is essentially 3-D clothing or whatever item we are making. These machines can make any structure we want. If we wanted to knit a ball, we could.


Lewis: If you can program it, the machines can knit it. It is hard for companies to design products [the standard] 18 months out and still be relevant. Here, we offer product orders three to four months out. These machines can run 23 hours a day. We want to buy enough machines so that we can make anything in any industry. If there’s a brand that wants to do 10,000 units of a merino wool sweater for their fall 2021 line, there’s no place in the U.S. that can make it. We built a facility to start.

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