Dwight Carter is more than a dedicated follower of fashion. As the producer of Pins & Needles, the longest running designer competition in the Midwest, he has spent his career presenting the newest trends in fashion.

Utilizing his background in marketing, event planning and promotion, Carter has stayed ahead of the pack by fusing contemporary fashion with entertainment, establishing himself as an innovator with a reputation for announcing the arrival of local designers with a relentless dedication.

Pins & Needles was originally intended as a platform for local designers before growing regionally as an opportunity for emerging designers from across the country to gain exposure, experience and the necessary tools to take their collections from the runway to retail outlets.

Carter summarized the planning process. “We start nine months prior to the event. We reach out to all the schools first, then expand that locally and nationally. Then we begin the submission process and pick the designers. Once those are picked, they begin to start their collections. That way, the lines they are going to show will never have been seen before.”

Originally a musician, Carter caught the fashion bug while working retail at a series of boutiques. After being asked to help with promoting a local show he began to attend meetings and become further involved with handling the designer search. From there, he worked in fashion PR, where he absorbed the back-of-the-house excitement and became hooked on the production elements of organizing fashion shows. Hungry and ready to make an impact, he began to throw his own shows at various bars, salons and clubs around St. Louis before launching Pins & Needles.

Carter commented on St. Louis’s place as a fashion city. “I think it’s growing, and there’s a lot of talent out there that people just don’t know about. This helped me decide that I was going to be the person to spearhead getting these designers known. I’ve made it my goal to get these designers in front of new people to help them understand the business and help them understand sales, marketing, PR, selecting models and things like that. I also think that some of the schools here need to do a better job of teaching the business end. They teach a lot of design elements, but once they graduate, they don’t know what to do with what they have and how to take that next step.”

Having brought fashion design competitions in the River City to a new level, Carter set out to apply his innovation elsewhere. Carter discussed Gent, the next step in his production cycle. “Three years ago, I started a men’s fashion show called Gent. After 12 years of producing fashion shows, I was frustrated that they always featured womenswear and wanted something new. Around this time, L.A., New York and Paris had started doing men’s fashion weeks and I, by coincide, without knowing about those other shows, was planning to do one here. I did a couple of those. Last year was the first year that I did a multi-day event with a runway show, pop-up shop and a barber competition. Next year, we are having four days of events with hopes of building on from that every year as St. Louis’s Men’s Fashion Week.”

When not championing St. Louis fashion scene, Carter is nurturing it by donating percentages of his ticket sales to the Stevens Institute of Business & Arts Scholarship Foundation where he teaches fashion marketing class and provides valuable hands-on experience to his pupils.

Off the runway, Carter gets his kicks coaching five soccer teams of kids ages 5-10 for Real STL.

Uncompromising in making St. Louis fashion-friendly, Carter offered suggestions for overcoming the challenges of getting local designer threads recognized. “Honestly, it is about getting the consumer to support their local people. You can go to big box or higher end stores and shop there, but there are a lot of great people creating exactly the same thing at a higher quality that is probably more fashionable. It all comes down to local consumers supporting these designers.”

He also emphasized the importance of supporting local innovators and creatives with fiscal support. “These fashion shows, are great but at the end of the day, the designers need to make money doing it. If they aren’t going to make money with it, they are going to disappear. It’s a big investment for them, and I know a lot of people are there just to be seen, but these designers are working their butts off to make a living.”

Pins & Needles will be held from 6-9 p.m. on Aug. 10 at Majorette, 7150 Manchester Avenue. Charles Smith II of the Saint Louis Fashion Incubator opens the festivities honoring the latest work from six young designers.