By  on May 20, 2008

Earlier this month, a handful of Council of Fashion Designers of America members met with New York City officials to talk about potential rezoning plans for the Garment District.

Seven million square feet are said to be set aside for apparel manufacturing, and there was talk of reducing that number to 350,000 square feet.

The CFDA's executive director, Steven Kolb, said, "There was no call to action. It was more information sharing than anything else."

Patrick Murphy, head of Fashion/Retail Industry Growth Initiatives for New York City's Economic Development Corp., said, "We continue to work with stakeholders on a solution that ensures the garment center will remain the working center of the fashion industry in New York City."

Murphy declined to comment on the proposed rezoning plans' specific square footage.

At Yeohlee Teng's suggestion, select CFDA members met privately last week at her showroom to review what was discussed. "I felt it is prudent for the CFDA to establish a position that can be beneficial to all," Teng said. "I listened to what [city officials] had to say and I understand what they had to say. There are a lot of interested parties, but none of them are talking to each other yet."

Teng said she has requested a meeting with the Fashion Center Business Improvement District's executive director, Barbara Randall. The designer said she already has spoken with the Garment Industry Development Corp. The CFDA will hopefully have taken a stand by the end of June, "no later," Teng said. "We are slowly making our way through this process. We intend to make the process as transparent as possible so that everyone who has a stake in the industry can understand what's being discussed, planned and strategized."

That said, there was some concern among the apparel contingency at the initial meeting with city officials. Some wondered how additional square footage might be returned to the garment center if demand warranted that down the road. A few questioned how the current system is monitored or enforced.

Another point of contention was keeping the heart of the district intact. Farming out production to Long Island City and Brooklyn, where more factory space is available and often more affordable, may be a feasible prospect, but reconnecting those venues to the Garment District-based companies that will use them could be challenging.

Kolb said, "You have to ask, 'At what point do you begin to unravel the structural center of the industry?' That doesn't provide a destination for a young designer to go when he or she is getting started."

Then there is the intrinsic and immeasurable value of American-made fashion, which competes on the worldwide stage.

Establishing a Made in New York program for the apparel industry could be an incentive for companies to reestablish some manufacturing in the city. Stan Herman, who attended both meetings, said New York could then lend a hand to apparel manufacturers by offering tax breaks, as they do with film and entertainment and other industries.

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