NEW YORK — “If they love the product, they will find you.”
That’s Deirdre Quinn, chief executive officer and cofounder of Lafayette 148 New York, offering some fashion business philosophy as she shows a guest her company’s new headquarters on the 14th floor of Building 77 in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
It’s a mid-September market week, when out-of-town retail buyers are in New York to shop the fashion lines, and Quinn sees a good turnout in the offices, opened just two weeks before.
Despite the possibility that buyers might find Brooklyn inconvenient compared with Manhattan, Quinn said, “The market is excited to come out here to Brooklyn. We’ll see about 150 accounts for market week, or 25 per day.…When we found this space two years ago, we knew right away this was it.”
Having a single floor, with 70,000 square feet, is a better way to run a company, Quinn said. Before, the $200 million company had about the same square footage, but operated over seven floors at 148 Lafayette Street in SoHo, where the rent was significantly higher. The company spent $11 million to construct its headquarters, which has numerous work stations with desks that electronically raise and lower to work standing up or sitting down; state-of-the-art patternmakers; lockers for everyone; green walls for plants; mobile fixtures in the showroom area to make space for events, and four large balconies with panoramic views of the city.
In terms of internal communications and getting things done, the company has increased efficiency at the Navy Yard. “There’s easily a 20 percent time savings,” Quinn said. “I can sense it. The energy is here.”
The 300-acre Brooklyn Navy Yard, located on the edge of the East River by Wallabout Basin just south of the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, at its peak produced warships for the U.S. Navy. Now the city is reestablishing it as a commercial center through a $2.5 billion master plan to develop 5.1 million square feet of vertical manufacturing space, provide open space and connectivity to surrounding neighborhoods, and create 10,000 additional jobs, bringing the total to 30,000.
That plan follows the completion of a $1 billion, 2.7 million-square-foot expansion involving Building 77 for vertically integrated design and manufacturing companies and a ground-floor food manufacturing center anchored by Russ & Daughters, the restaurant and food service. The expansion includes Dock 72, an office building opening early next year for creative firms and WeWork; Admiral’s Row, which will include a light manufacturing and office building and the city’s first Wegmans supermarket; the Green Manufacturing Center, which houses the New Lab tech center; Brooklyn Roasting coffee, and Crye Precision, which designs and manufactures uniforms and protective equipment for special operations forces, and an expanded Steiner Studios.
Building 77, once an abandoned windowless World War II-era office and storage facility, lies in the center of the Navy Yard. At a cost of $185 million, it’s been transformed largely into an urban manufacturing hub. It’s 90 percent leased, with several vertically integrated companies, and has roughly 3,000 middle-class jobs.
“It’s the centerpiece of the Navy Yard,” said Clare Newman, chief of staff and executive vice president of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. It’s also evidence, Newman added, that New York City can support manufacturing and provide employment opportunities for middle- and working-class residents, and reverse what’s been decades of seeing the city’s manufacturing base shrink.
While most New Yorkers have heard of Navy Yard, few are aware of its components and what’s been happening there. Newman believes that’s about to change. The creation of space for light manufacturing firms and the influx of thousands of new jobs “will have an impact,” said Newman.
“It’s really becoming a fashion hub in Brooklyn,” said Kyiesha Kelly, co-owner of the Hip Hop Closet Inc. fashion firm, which will move into Building 77 later this year, from Building 131 in the Navy Yard. On the sixth floor, Kelly is creating a 2,900-square-foot showroom and event area, with some space for light manufacturing and where appointments can be made for personal shopping and customizing products.
“The Navy Yard has a lot of services to help businesses grow and help train employees. There’s an internship program and they give financial classes,” said Kelly. “They helped me come up with a growth strategy.”
“I took a 12-week business class. I never took a business class before,” said Rony Elka Vardi, owner of Catbird Jewelry, which in April moved into a 12,500-square-foot space on the ninth floor of Building 77, housing the company’s shipping, fulfillment, customer service, marketing, manufacturing and art departments, as well as offices.
“It’s really different here knowing you have a landlord whose mission is to help your business grow,” said Vardi. “I can sleep better at night knowing I’m not under the threat of the building being sold from underneath me,” which happened to her before in Williamsburg, forcing her to find new space. Her company creates fine and demi-fine jewelry and sells it through the company’s web site, its store in Williamsburg and on Net-a-porter. With larger headquarters than before, “I pay a big [rent] check every month, but the cost on a square footage basis is unbeatable compared to Williamsburg.”
The Navy Yard is also home to Abby Lichtman, Accurate Knitting, Ilana Kohn, Justin Paul, Michael Berkowitz, Nora Ligorano, Richard Manufacturing, Ruckel Manufacturing, Sartorous LLC and Nanette Lepore.
Rebel Designs is expected to start operating later this year in Building 77, which is also home to the film production company Casual Films, vitamin manufacturer Care Of, fabrication and design studio SITU Studio, Russ & Daughters and other food operations.
“I was feeling priced out in Manhattan,” said Lepore, who moved into a 4,500-square-foot space in Building 77 for design, prototypes, shipping, fulfillment, data entry and a small amount of production, with most of her production still conducted in Manhattan’s Garment District. Downsizing from 8,000 square feet at 225 West 35th Street, where she still has a showroom, and relocating to Brooklyn represents “a refresh, a restart. It’s a more creative environment with diverse people, and I’m paying about two-thirds of what I paid in Manhattan. I did try to find a space in Manhattan. I just couldn’t find one. Obviously, it was the affordability.”
“We’ve relocated all of our operations on the Navy Yard, except our concept store,” which is still in Lafayette 148’s former headquarters, said Quinn. Practically the entire staff of about 220 made the move, sticking with the company. “We only lost four people,” Quinn said.
The move to Brooklyn cut the company’s rent by two-thirds to about $30 a foot. “With the savings that we attain by moving, we will reinvest into the brand,” Quinn said. “This year we are opening more retail, building up accessories and shoes and creating a new web site. We have 20 stores. We see 50 operating in eight years. It’s about slow and steady growth.”
“I definitely feel that we always sees things differently,” said Quinn. “It’s really about not being afraid of change.”