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What will they do for me?
That’s the question on the mind of the $55 billion fashion industry as New Yorkers head to the polls for Tuesday’s mayoral primary to pick the candidates for the race to succeed Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
This story first appeared in the September 9, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
During his three-term reign, Bloomberg has been a familiar face with the fashion crowd, cutting the ribbon for New York Fashion Week, making cameos at red-carpet industry events and most notably launching Fashion.NYC.2020 to sustain and further grow New York’s fashion industry. That 10-year plan has established a manufacturing incentive, as well as Fashion Draft NYC and Design Entrepreneurs NYC, both of which are geared to cultivating the next generation of talent.
While none of the 11 candidates — seven Democrat, three Republican and one independent — have exactly canvassed the Garment Center hustling for votes, they would be remiss to not acknowledge its fiscal force. As one of New York City’s leading industries, the fashion sector employs 173,000 people, accounting for nearly 6 percent of the city’s workforce. It also generates nearly $10 billion in annual wages with tax revenues of $2 billion. On top of that, more than 500,000 visitors come each year to check out apparel trade shows, showrooms and stores.
Bloomberg set up Fashion.NYC.2020 to try and position the city as a hub of innovation for emerging designers, as well as retailers and executives. Whether that actually flies will no doubt depend on his successor. Some have criticized the mayor for not rezoning the waning Garment District, which once employed hundreds of thousands of workers and produced most of the clothing in the U.S.
In the wake of decades of increased offshore production, New York’s fashion industry is now as much about marketing as it once was about manufacturing. And as more and more Americans are inclined to shop online, designers and brands are dealing with more challenges than ever to try to tap into their share of the $350 billion fashion business in the U.S.
With that in mind, WWD approached all of the candidates to find out how they would stimulate growth in New York City’s fashion and retail industries.
All except two candidates responded. Bill Thompson’s schedule was “too jam packed” and an Erick Salgado spokesman agreed but failed to deliver the candidate’s views by press time.
A few of the candidates know the industry firsthand. Both John Liu’s and Sal Albanese’s mothers worked in New York factories for years (in July, The New York Metropolitan Area Joint Board of Workers United/SEIU, which represents 10,000-plus active and retired garment workers, endorsed Liu for mayor), while McDonald worked at McGregor Sportswear and independent candidate Jack Hidary used to punch the clock at his family’s 65-year-old apparel company during high school summers. And John Catsimatidis, a self-made billionaire by way of Gristedes, has been designing neckties for 20-plus years.
Here is what the candidates had to say about what they would do to stimulate the New York fashion and retail industries, ranked by their positions in the latest polls as of Sunday.
Bill de Blasio
De Blasio said he would take the following steps “in order to cultivate the continued growth and vibrancy of the city’s fashion and design sectors, while ensuring the benefits of this economic growth are shared by even more New Yorkers.”
• Ensure NYCxDesign and New York Fashion Week continue to be annual celebrations of New York’s design and fashion communities.
• Expand the Design Excellence Program in New York City’s Department of Design and Construction to other government agencies in order to preclear small design firms for frequent requests for proposal [FRP] tasks and to tap into New York’s design talent working in firms without the institutional capacity to apply for small individual RFPs.
• Encourage collaboration between the city’s stellar design schools in order to pool resources to support fashion incubators, shared space and entrepreneurship training for young designers early in their careers.
• Connect design firms to small businesses and business improvement districts in order to give New York’s small businesses access to New York’s design talent.
• End the ticketing blitz by banning fine quotas on small businesses and creating a tiered classification system. “We need to help small businesses comply with the law instead of milking them as a source of revenue, while ensuring our enforcement resources are targeted toward the most egregious offenses.”
• Create a $100 million revolving loan fund for neighborhood small businesses looking to start or grow.
Thompson, who attended a Save the Garment Center rally during his 2009 mayoral run, declined to participate. His Web site references such business initiatives as:
• Appointing a chief jobs officer who, among other things, would start a program using Match.com-type analytics to connect businesses with unemployed New Yorkers.
• Strengthen workforce training and increase employee preparation education funding to $120 million, which will allow New York City to train up to 150,000 residents.
“One of New York’s premier industries is fashion, employing over 200,000 people in over 800 fashion companies. Not only do we need to maintain this industry and the jobs that come along with it, we need to expand and grow on the successes we have by showcasing local designers through NYCxDesign and supporting New York City-based manufacturing of local design products,” Quinn said.
Other initiatives include:
• “Grow the successful NYCxDesign festival that [Quinn] created this year with the design and fashion community, and which included over 300 individual events, at 180 venues in all five boroughs. NYCxDesign showcases local designers and helps export their products across the country and around the world. It also provides classes to emerging designers in partnership with the Fashion Institute of Technology, Pratt and Parsons, in addition to the City’s Department of Small Business Services.”
• Further invest in the Brooklyn Navy Yard to create more spaces for small design manufacturers. Build on her Small Manufacturing Investment Fund that provides capital to developers to subdivide and modernize outdated manufacturing spaces for smaller, artisanal manufacturing firms like apparel companies.
“The fashion and retail industries are crucial to the stability and growth of our city’s economy. From students to models to designers and to all of the professions they work with, New York City relies on the talents of its creative class to be a global leader,” Weiner said.
“From fighting for copyright protections for designers to ensuring that our companies can bring in the talent they need from all over the world, I was a champion for the fashion industry in Congress, and will continue to be as mayor,” Weiner said. “Often crowded out by larger manufacturers or commercial retailers and facing ever-increasing rents, independent designers face many challenges in being able to do business in New York City. My proposals would protect zoning for light manufacturing and also ensure that small businesses are given opportunities to connect to suppliers, distributors and manufacturers, instead of being subject to fines and fees.”
When his family first moved from Taiwan in 1972, Liu’s mother Jamy spent 12 years working in sweatshops in Queens. The City Comptroller, who in 2009 became the first Asian-American elected to a New York City office, described those childhood years as “a very rough experience for her and my family, but I guess we always chalked it up to the typical immigrant experience.” After specializing in hand-powered knitting, his mother saved enough money to buy a small grocery store with her brother, Paul.
Liu’s mother-in-law, So Lee, also worked in the industry, sewing in Chinatown factories. “The fashion industry has been the gateway to the middle class for generations of immigrants. These kinds of opportunities need to be saved in New York City,” he said. “In recent years, obviously overseas production has taken a toll. I am a proponent of retaining and bringing back some of those jobs including garment manufacturing. Obviously, there is a different global economy today but that shouldn’t preclude us from retaining and creating as many jobs as we can. The fashion industry has been a mainstay in New York City for so long.”
Protecting the Fashion District, creating jobs and promoting fashion week are priorities. “We live in a global economy and the conventional wisdom is that clothing production is being done less and less in the U.S. and in New York City. We need to develop those opportunities,” he said. “I don’t think we should throw in the towel when it comes to the fashion industry in New York City.
“We have one of the biggest fashion weeks in the world. This is something we should promote and encourage more people to show here. And if they show here, then they may have the opportunity to engage in some component of production here. Basically, this is in my blood and I’m never going to let go of it.”
The Italian-born, Brooklyn-bred candidate said he has fond memories of his mother, Elvira, being a piece-goods garment worker for more than 32 years. “That part of the business is gone now,” Albanese said.
A fan of building upon Fashion.NYC.2020, Albanese said he would also encourage the New York City Economic Development Corp. to work more closely with the industry to leverage strengths and develop more technologically progressive programs. Enhancing collaborations with such schools as the Fashion Institute of Technology, Parsons The New School for Design and the High School of Fashion Industries is needed, said Albanese, who taught high school for 11 years and holds a law degree.
“Good schools, good mass transportation and a safe city are all things that will help attract young people,” he added.
Albanese, who has not accepted any campaign donations from real estate developers so as not to be beholden to them, vowed to build and preserve 210,000 units of affordable housing, while creating 26,000 living-wage jobs in the process. “We also have to keep the city safe and we need affordable housing. There are a lot of young bright people who can’t afford to live here,” he said. “And we don’t just want people buying luxury condos, which is what we see happening in Manhattan. A lot of foreigners are buying luxury condos but they don’t live here.”
Salgado declined to participate. His Web site references tax incentives to encourage small businesses to hire more workers and push for legislation that prohibits the proceeds from fines levied against these businesses from going into the city’s treasury. “I will also provide tax incentives to bring manufacturing back to New York City, targeting clean and emerging high-tech, bio-tech and nanotech industries,” he indicated on the site.
“New York City is one of the top fashion capitals of the world and I will ensure we retain that title. I want to see the shows continue to grow and expand beyond Lincoln Center, where the world’s most creative designers can showcase their talent,” Lhota said. “The fashion industry is indispensable to the city’s economy, and we need to find ways in this changing marketplace to keep and create new jobs.”
Lhota added, “We’ve lost a huge chunk of the industry to overseas, but I believe we can bring some of those jobs back, particularly in the area of assemblage, which helps with on-time delivery in retail stores all across the country. I have also proposed reducing taxes, including eliminating the tax on capital, which places a huge burden on entrepreneurs. I will work closely with the industry to ensure the city’s policies are helping it grow, not driving jobs and talent to more business-friendly cities.”
As a longtime executive at McGregor Sportswear, McDonald once enticed Joe Namath to endorse the company. Now he is better known as the founder and president of the Doe Fund. “I grew up in the fashion industry and understand its importance as an economic force in the city,” McDonald said. “As mayor, I will work with the industry to focus on growth areas such as design and niche manufacturing” by propping up smaller manufacturers, supporting young talent, potentially opening a design-centered charter school and taking a more public role in New York Fashion Week.
He “still keeps his eye on the industry” and as mayor “would focus on keeping the industry vital and growing in New York.”
A spokesman for McDonald added, “He believes we need to assist smaller niche manufacturers that still can compete domestically through access to capital and development of competitively priced manufacturing space. He also believes we need to nurture and encourage the cutting-edge designers which still call New York home by working with our design schools and companies to create opportunities. As mayor, McDonald would promote, participate and support fashion week as a unique NYC experience that is essential for exposure and tourism spending. He also believes in preserving the essence of the garment district in NYC to retain a critical mass of talent, expertise and resources,” the spokesman said.
“I have been designing my own neckties for over 20 years, so I know firsthand how important the garment industry is to New York City,” he said of the gifts he started making to give politician friends like Bill Clinton.
Catsimatidis has another interesting political tie. His daughter Andrea’s mother-in-law is former first daughter Tricia Nixon Cox and Andrea’s father-in-law Edward Cox is the New York Republican Party chair. At 64, the mayoral candidate heads up Manhattan’s largest grocery store chain, Gristedes Foods, and the Red Apple Group, a real estate company with about $750 million in holdings, and he also owns the Hellenic Times newspaper. Born in Greece to a lighthouse-keeper-turned-New York City busboy, Catsimatidis said, “I am the also only one in this race that feels the pain of our city’s small businesses — I have gotten the rent increases, the high water bills and the punitive tickets and fines. I started out as a small businessman in the retail industry and I have never forgotten where I came from. I am going to stimulate growth for all industries in New York by freezing all taxes the mayor controls on Day One,” he said.
Catsimatidis added, “If the garment and retail industries, and all industries, in our city have confidence that the mayor will keep taxes down and get rid of the burdensome regulations that are hurting our small businesses, they will be able to hire and grow — which will benefit all New Yorkers.”
“My family has been doing business in the garment district for more than 65 years through M. Hidary & Co. Inc., which designs sports clothing for Fila and others. I did jobs there as a kid. Great experience. We have personally seen the challenges in New York’s apparel market. As mayor, I will make sure to stimulate growth in this important sector through a number of key initiatives. I will launch new design coworking spaces in all five boroughs. While we have a handful in the Garment District, there is talent in all five boroughs. There are many budding designers of clothing and accessories for example in South Brooklyn, near where I grew up in Coney Island. We need to nurture this talent through the creation of design coworking spaces throughout the city.”
He added, “I will reduce capital gains tax for those who invest in new and growing businesses, such as new design and fashion companies. Look at the success of Andrew Rosen investing in and mentoring a range of young designers at companies such as Rag and Bone, Proenza Schouler and others.
“I will promote New York-based designers in showcase trips around the world to encourage retailers to carry their lines. We will provide more support to Parsons, FIT and other design schools to ensure we have a growing talent base that is tech-savvy and can compete and win in the global market place of fashion and design,” Hidary said.