Keeping Fashion on Fashion Avenue

There’s a movement afoot to keep fashion production active in Manhattan's historic Garment District.

Appeared In
Special Issue
WWD Milestones issue 09/10/2012

Racks of dresses might not be clogging the streets of Seventh Avenue like they used to, but it’s still called the Garment District.

This story first appeared in the September 10, 2012 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Different industries have set up camp in Manhattan’s fashion hub in recent years, from technology to advertising agencies. And while more of these businesses are taking up residence in the fabled district, there’s a movement to keep fashion production in the neighborhood. One such initiative to preserve the area’s flavor is called Made in Midtown, a comprehensive study on which the Council of Fashion Designers of America and the Design Trust for Public Space partnered to evaluate the fashion industry’s presence in the area. The aim was to keep it zoned for garment manufacturing.

The initiative is led by Yeohlee Teng, who serves as the liaison between the CFDA board and City Hall. Its first phase reviewed the public spaces in Midtown with an eye on what the future Garment District could look like. A second phase, due out this fall, will offer recommendations on revitalizing the area and staying focused on entrepreneurship and fashion production. “It was a foregone conclusion that we need the industry to thrive in the city for identity reasons and for economic reasons,” Teng says, noting that phase one had a big influence on the city. “I think it gave them pause and made them rethink land-use issues, job issues and the value of fashion to the city.”

A “Save the Garment Center” campaign began in late summer 2008 in earnest via a T-shirt conceived by Anna Sui and circulated during fashion week that September. The grassroots campaign grew from a recognition that zoning in the area was no longer working to preserve manufacturing and production there, allowing for the redevelopment of what was once factory buildings into luxury lofts and hotels.

The fashion industry in New York employs more than 173,000 individuals and generates about $10 billion in wages, according to data from the NYC Economic Development Corp. As for how big the garment industry is for the city, according to NYCEDC, the total employed in fashion here represents 5.7 percent of the city’s workforce and generates nearly $2 billion in tax revenue annually. The fashion retail market is growing at a pace that the city projects will increase employment in apparel and accessories stores by 17 percent by 2025. A June 2012 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects tailors, dressmakers and custom sewers to grow by 2 percent between 2010 and 2020.

Andrew Rosen, cofounder and chief executive officer of Theory and and “angel investor” in emerging designer firms, is working on the Fashion.NYC.2020 initiative, a program of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the NYCEDC. Launched in January 2010, the program analyzes the state of the fashion industry ecosystem as well as strategies to enhance New York’s position as a global fashion capital. Among its key goals are to attract more young managerial talent to the city, and to enhance the city as a hub of retail innovation.

Rosen has been working to modernize manufacturing in the city. Programs being eyed to help young entrepreneurs include loans and tax incentives. As part of the initiative, the Fashion Production Fund is expected to launch before yearend to give emerging designers access to production financing, requiring that they use local factories to make their products.