Depending on whom you ask, saving the garment center either means holding fast to the neighborhood’s roots (and boundaries) or sprucing up the area to appeal to an assortment of businesses.
This story first appeared in the September 8, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
There may not be any immediate plans in the works for meetings to hash out potential new zoning, but many other initiatives have taken hold in the district.
The Fashion Center Business Improvement District unveiled the neighborhood’s first bike-share program Wednesday. Prabal Gurung, Betsey Johnson, Elie Tahari, Rebecca Minkoff and Nanette Lepore were among the 30 designers who customized the Bowery Lane bicycles that can now be borrowed temporarily from stations in the Garment Center or the Meatpacking District.
Other community-minded efforts for all sorts of creative types take place throughout the fall, including next month’s arts festival. The fashion crowd is expected to be well-represented when the names of Ralph Rucci and Donald Brooks are added to the Fashion Walk of Fame. And to try to increase the neighborhoody feel, the Fashion Center Business Improvement District will host Fashion District Kite Flight on Sept. 18 on the roof of the Port Authority Bus Terminal, where participants can try out kite-making, kite-flying, arts and crafts and free ice cream. There will also be live music, yoga demonstrations and dance performances.
As for designating an Eighth Avenue building for apparel making for small New York-based labels — an idea championed by Andrew Rosen that has been bandied about in recent years — that has yet to materialize. FCBID’s executive director, Barbara Randall, said via e-mail Tuesday, “Honestly there is no progress on the one-stop manufacturing building proposed.”
A spokeswoman for New York City’s Economic Development Corp. said via e-mail Tuesday, “The EDC is continuing to evaluate alternatives for preserving production space in the Garment Center and supporting the area’s revitalization. We are committed to the Garment Center’s function as a central place for fashion designers, suppliers and manufacturers to congregate, recognizing that it is essential to New York’s economy.”
The Council of Fashion Designers of America continues to do its part by cultivating young talent through the CFDA Fashion Incubator program. The new crop of designers at the West 38th Street location includes Antonio Azzuolo; Arielle Shapiro of Ari Dein; Benjamin and Doug Burkman of Burkman Brothers; Christian Cota; Emanuela Duca; Ricky Hendry and Marc Daniels of Isaora; Luis M. Fernandez of Number:Lab; Reece Solomon of Reece Hudson; Maayan Zilberman and Nikki Dekker of The Lake & Stars, and Timo Weiland and Alan Eckstein of Timo Weiland.
Participants can also learn more about the financial side of running a profitable business through a new partnership with New York University’s Stern Consulting Corps. As of Sept. 23, designers will be able to work with selected NYU Stern M.B.A. students who will help them develop full financial statements, cash flow projections and investor-ready business plans. Once again, Target Corp. has renewed its support as an underwriter of the Fashion Incubator program from 2012 through 2014.
The nonprofit Save the Garment Center is also trying to give newbies a helping hand. The group’s executive director, Erica Wolf, said awareness is on the rise but the zoning still needs to be sorted out. Encouraging New York-based designers to bring back some production — even a small percentage — to the area is an important part of the equation, she said.
In addition, her group is trying to widen its support beyond the tried-and-true who have helped in recent years through Facebook and other means. Its Web site, Savethegarmentcenter.org, is being relaunched today with a greater emphasis on how the design process comes to fruition in the Garment District. “We want to create an inside look of the Garment Center to try to grow consumer appreciation for the process, and to debunk the myth that nothing is made in America anymore,” she said. “That simply isn’t the case.
“At the moment, we are working to figure out how to mobilize the industry as a whole, and not just those who have been consistently involved for the past four years,” Wolf added.
For those who are relatively new to the neighborhood, Save the Garment Center refers emerging designers who inquire about getting some direction about the ins and outs of the apparel business to Andy Ward of the Garment Industry Development Corp. Ward tries to help arrange mentorships. “Although our infrastructure is small, we help each designer as much as we can,” Wolf said. “These aspiring designers are most grateful for the guidance and for the assistance.”
Yeohlee Teng, who has been steadfast in her efforts to try to keep the neighborhood’s core intact, will showcase a few local up-and-comers at her space tonight during Fashion’s Night Out. Three New York-made labels — Emmanuelle by Thomas Chen, Michael Harlan Bespoke and 1-100’s Graham Tabor and Miguel Villalobo — will each have a presence at her 25 West 38th Street site. The gathering is meant to support locally made goods, something Teng has long been a proponent of with her signature collection, as well as through the Made in Midtown initiative. The FNO crowd can learn all about the Made in Midtown study and how the apparel industry energizes the area.
Teng recently mulled over the idea of having an outpost that sells only New York-made clothes or a concept shop within a major retailer. “I thought, ‘Why sit around and wait for someone to do it?’ I can’t do it on the scale that Macy’s, Lord & Taylor or Saks could. However, I decided I would do something,” she said.
FNO shoppers can pitch in by buying $25 tote bags. Proceeds will benefit the Made in Midtown study that is being conducted by The Design Trust for Public Space. The second phase of that survey is expected to be revealed in the weeks ahead.
To try to further that cause, longtime fashion publicist Claudine DeSola is opening the doors of the Caravan Stylist Studio, an appointment-only wardrobe studio for actors, musicians and other VIPs that is geared to furthering the Made in Midtown initiative. Stylists who work with top talent will have an open-door policy. The 2,200-square-foot West 38th Street space, which bows next month, will also have a lounge, photo and video studio and nail salon. Walter, Boy Meets Girl and Alice & Trixie are a few local labels that will be offered through the studio. DeSola is launching a fragrance with Demeter, which will be given to every celebrity who visits the studio. It will also be for sale with 25 percent of the proceeds are going to the Design Trust for Public Space’s Made In Midtown program.
The studio will also have a Web site, caravanstyliststudio.com, that will be continually updated with videos of VIPs talking up the designers they found. To spread the word about the Caravan Stylist Studio, DeSola will host a launch party tonight in a pop-up shop at The Sky Room. In addition, a play created by Paul Iacono will be performed in the space Friday night and a luncheon will be held Sept. 13 at Elettra Wiedmann’s Goodness, a pop-up restaurant in Ed’s Chowder House near Lincoln Center.
Over the summer, academics Sarah Williams and Elizabeth Currid-Halkett teamed up to oversee one of the more progressive studies of the area. Their “Check-In Fashion” project used Foursquare’s social media to map out how the industry is clustered throughout Manhattan.
Williams serves as director of Columbia University’s Spatial Information Design Lab, and was one of the fellows in Phase One of the Made in Midtown Study. Currid-Halkett is assistant professor at University of Southern California’s School of Policy, Planning and Development. Rather than purely looking at the neighborhood from a geographical standpoint, as in where companies are based, this project took more of an all-encompassing view.
“It’s very dynamic,” said Currid-Halkett, noting the study took place from July 18 to 29. “We’re not simply looking at where the design houses are located, but where the employees go from 9 to 5. From a practical perspective, this informs the way the city can deal with the fashion industry. We can quantify how important it is for people in the industry to be around each other.”
Check-In Fashion rounded up designers and interns, having them use Foursquare technology via smartphones to check into each location they entered throughout their working day in the district for two weeks. By having them check into factories, suppliers, and other fashion-related businesses, researchers could track how various people use the Garment Center for their respective businesses.
Clearly, the results will be pertinent for the “Save the Garment Center” campaign, but the program also examines how workers interact with the entire city. The results will be released this fall by Williams and Currid-Halkett, but the pair declined to give any clues about their conclusions. The aim is to quantify the importance of manufacturing firms in the Garment District.
While not designated solely for Garment Center-made goods, People’s Revolution publicist Kelly Cutrone is cooking up an idea that could help local companies. She’s trying to iron out how domestic brands could institute red, white and blue bar codes to help shoppers easily identify American-made goods.
“I’m from Syracuse, which is the ultimate blue-collar town. When I go back there, all these people are out of work from factory jobs. But there are other places like High Point, N.C., with really good factories,” she said. “I would much rather give my money to an American factory worker and know that is going to feed their kids and help their community. I don’t care if people make things in China. I am all for a global economy. I would just like to be able to support my own city. This is something that needs to be done in America.”