NEW YORK — Chetta B is a rare Seventh Avenue animal.
While many of its species of independently operated ready-to-wear firms have become extinct and others have joined a larger herd, this bridge-priced dress and suit house has been run by the same person — Howard Bloom — with the same designers — sister Sherrie Bloom and Peter Noviello — for 25 years.
That's not to say the company hasn't evolved with the times. Its survival is proof of that, the three insisted in an interview at the firm's showroom and offices at 530 Seventh Avenue. The firm moved to its current home four years ago after 21 years at 498 Seventh Avenue when what had been known as the "dress building" decided to attract nonfashion clientele.
Another major change in the company, which had sales of about $20 million last year, is the evolution over the last 10 years as to where it makes its merchandise.
"We've become a 97 percent importer from 100 percent domestic in the last 10 years," Howard Bloom said. "I get a better product. I get product I couldn't manufacture here, especially from factories that specialize in this kind of handwork and beading. You go to China, where they have gorgeous factories, everything's brand new and they're proud to be in that business. Here, you go to a factory and it's old and dark and dank, they haven't bought a machine in 35 years and the labor force is miniscule."
He said importing from China has made the firm plan its production "a little bit earlier," but Sherrie Bloom and Noviello still like to work close to the season to be on top of trends and customer needs.
"The requirements to work in China are not what they used to be when people first started going there," Bloom said. "When the exodus first started, the Chinese manufacturers were dictating policy. That is no longer the case. I feel that I have the upper hand in those negotiations. There are so many of them there now, that they're happy to have a steady, 25-year-old firm to do business with."
Bloom, whose firm used to manufacture in unionized shops and was an advocate of worker rights and supporting local jobs, said times are just not the same and efforts to curb imports and protect American jobs are a fruitless endeavor.
A Stella McCartney sketch of a custom dress made from protein-based silk in partnership with biotech lab Bolt Threads. The dress will be displayed at The Museum of Modern Art's upcoming design exhibition, "Items: Is Fashion Modern?"