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LOS ANGELES — With his family history stitched into the local apparel industry, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti hopes to prove that he will be an efficacious advocate for the more than 80,000 people who work in the $13 billion sector. Shortly after he took office on June 30 as the city’s top Democrat politician, Garcetti discussed his plans for increasing jobs in Los Angeles’ fashion industry, boosting exports under the Made in L.A. brand and advancing immigration reform.
This story first appeared in the September 4, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
WWD: As you start your new term as the mayor of Los Angeles, what are your goals for working with the apparel manufacturing and retail industry?
Eric Garcetti: The fashion and apparel industry fits into my goal to position Los Angeles as the city, more than anywhere else in the world, where creativity lives. And it’s one of our core economic industries and points of identity.…We’ve seen manufacturing come back here. We’ve seen certain niches be very viable, and we didn’t give up the fight just because a lot of manufacturing is going overseas.…We haven’t done much brand management of Los Angeles. Even though we have a terrific city and an extraordinary brand, we’ve done very little to manage that. The apparel industry fits into that very squarely because it’s one of our products that travels the most around the world. But I want the message to be not just for the apparel made in L.A., but a more broad communication strategy about all the good things that come from L.A., from the Mars Rover to movies to a pair of jeans.
Two, I want to look at workforce development. I think a lot of our companies don’t have people in the local area graduating with the job skills they need in design for the jobs that will, I think, continue to stay here in Los Angeles. I would like to see fashion be one of those sectors that we begin to spend some of our job training early on, to more aggressively graduate high school, community college and even college [students] who are apparel-industry ready.…Third, I’d like to have a greater presence at fashion industry events and conventions. [Former] Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa tested that out last year in Las Vegas. I think I want to have a greater steady presence, not just in the United States but abroad at fashion shows, to continue to build, within the fashion world, the L.A. brand and promote the amazing companies and products that we have here.
WWD: What else can be done specifically to increase jobs in the apparel manufacturing industry? For instance, tax breaks and incentives?
E.G.: I’m looking at reducing our taxes across the board, [particularly] our gross receipts tax. That will certainly help impact those that are in the city of L.A. We’re going to have to compete based on the quality of what we have. We’re never going to be the cheapest, but we can be a little bit cheaper, and that’s a combination of speed to market, of the skill level that our workers have, as well as some of the structural things like taxes. But we’re never going to win that war, because our wages are never going to undercut and our taxes are never going to undercut certain other places. But we have great opportunities for free-trade zones here in Los Angeles right now. Oftentimes, materials that are finished are taxed but raw materials aren’t. So if we can get raw materials in here to fabric manufacturers and others that are here, they can bring it to free-trade areas. And if it’s exported, they can get out of here without taxes on it. Especially as we continue to do more exports, that’s a ripe opportunity for the industry.
WWD: The Los Angeles Regional Export Council is partnering with the Pacific Coast Regional Small Business Development Corp. on a pilot finance program to guarantee loans for companies that want to export. Will the city try to start more programs like this to boost exports from L.A.?
E.G.: Absolutely. We’ve been talking to the Obama administration. I had as a council member, and I will continue as mayor, to look at the export initiatives that the White House has helped launch. I will have it beefed up with our international trade team, with experts in Latin America, Asia and Europe, as well, to exploit this moment to grow our market share.
WWD: What else can be done to increase exports from L.A. in the apparel industry?
E.G.: I think marketing is absolutely an important piece. I hope to travel quite a bit to really get those relationships in Asia and Latin America, to some extent Europe where we already have strong relations. And whatever you can do to help those companies that are here. L.A. has something that most other places in the world don’t have: We have celebrities, we have movies, we have television. The fashion that we can make here should be shown here. If I can connect the entertainment industry much closer to the apparel industry, that can only help us.
WWD: On May 1, the tariff on women’s cotton jeans exported to Europe more than tripled. Would your administration be able to do anything to help the denim manufacturers offset that tariff?
E.G.: We’ve taken a position in the council, and I signed it just recently to adopt as part of our official legislative program to lobby against that change. Absolutely, if I go to Europe — I hope that can be resolved before then — but if it’s still on in this next year, it’s certainly going to be a high priority of mine. It’s ridiculous that jeans would be targeted, which is in some ways the ultimate symbol of America in Europe.
WWD: There seems to be a trend for more foreign direct investments in the U.S. and potential partnerships between Asian and domestic manufacturers. Is that something you’d encourage?
E.G.: I’d love to see on my trips to Asia some commitments from some Asian companies to come here and start manufacturing in the Los Angeles area. It makes business sense for them as, I think, we are more competitive and quicker. If they want to establish a footprint for their brands, it’s one thing that we just haven’t seen come from Asia. We’re looking to establishing offices in Asia and Latin America that would be trade, investment and tourist offices. This will be one-stop shops. We’ll certainly look at China, Korea [and] Mexico, among others.