By  on January 22, 2010

WASHINGTON — Designers Yeohlee Teng, Nanette Lepore and Stan Herman arrived here Wednesday night to raise political awareness about efforts to preserve New York’s Garment District.

The group met with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.) and staffers from the offices of several congressmen, including Rep. Tim Ryan, (D., Ohio) of the Congressional Manufacturing Caucus. Along with Ryan, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D., N.Y.), who represents Garment District neighborhoods, attended a panel where the trio spoke about the importance of the district to the city, the future of U.S. manufacturing and designers.

“We need for everyone in our government to support the idea that you can make a decent profit [manufacturing in the U.S.],” said Lepore. “I don’t make the same profit I could if I manufactured in China, but I’m proud of what I do and that I manufacture in the U.S.”

They also screened the HBO documentary “Schmatta: From Rags to Riches to Rags,” which focuses on Manhattan’s apparel industry and includes a segment about the push to launch the “Save the Garment Center” campaign last year. The campaign is lobbying to protect the area from proposals to change zoning laws that were established to protect manufacturers in order to allow commercial and real estate development in the area. Landlords have sought to change the zoning to more lucrative office space.

The moment is right to focus attention on the plight of the Garment District, the designers said.

“We have a very sexy industry now,” Herman said.

The buzz around the fashion shows in New York and volume of fashion people coming through the city is greater than ever, he said, but “what do you do with that excitement when you’re losing the other side of the see-saw, which is the manufacturing piece?”

The movement to fight zoning changes in New York has included rallies this fall, but the organizers are working to bring more political pressure to bear on the issue.

“The important thing is to explain to the politicians that the height, the pinnacle [of the industry] is supported by a base, and the base is the workers, the manufacturers, the contractors and the people who sew,” Teng said. “I feel we’re very fortunate to have Mrs. Obama know the names of every new designer that she wears. I think it would be wonderful if she could articulate where the clothes by these designers are made.”

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