The creative class has been one of the fastest-growing segments in New York City’s economy in the past 10 years, but that sector is also facing more challenges than ever before, including increased competition from such cities as Shanghai, Berlin and Detroit.
That was among the findings in the highly detailed “Creative New York” report released Tuesday by The Center for an Urban Future, a Wall Street-based think tank that aims to provide ideas and workable solutions to policymakers. The Center’s primary focus is on growing and diversifying the local economy, expanding economic opportunity and targeting problems facing low-income and working-class neighborhoods.
In 2013, New York’s creative sector employed 295,755 people, accounting for 7 percent of all jobs in the city. All in all, the number of creative jobs increased 13 percent compared to 2003, according to the report. The city is now home to 14,145 creative businesses and nonprofits — an 18 percent gain compared to a decade ago.
While the tech sector has continued to gain ground in recent years, health care and retail still have more jobs overall. Interestingly, in 2013, New York City was home to 8.6 percent of all creative sector jobs in the nation, up from 7.1 percent in 2003. As of 2013, there were 6,200 fashion designers, a slight decline to the 6,262 who worked in the city in 2003. In a city where 700 languages are said to be spoken, 29 percent of the creative class is foreign-born, compared to 38 percent of the entire city that’s foreign-born.
The report’s author, Adam Forman, spent a year researching and interviewing about 200 people. The tech boom in relation to fashion, and the speed and proximity at which both industries are joining forces, surprised him. “I didn’t realize how closely they are working together and how quickly fashion companies adopt new technology — whether that’s 3-D fabrics, new manufacturing or wearable technology,” Forman said, pointing to Ringly wearable technology jewelry, Ralph Lauren’s wearables, Opening Ceremony’s work with Intel and Tory Burch’s efforts with Fitbit as examples. In addition, e-commerce businesses like Gilt Group, Warby Parker and Rent the Runway started here, and also benefit by drawing from the city’s creative types as customers.
In the months ahead, the development of Manufacture New York’s wearable technology incubator in Industry City in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park will further interest, thanks largely to Bob Bland, MNY’s founder and ceo, Forman said. Moondial’s Sabine Seymour, one of the first fellow to work on wearables in New Inc., the New Museum’s incubator, also earned his praise for her work in wearables. The New School’s Parsons School of Design, Pratt Institute and Fashion Institute of Technology need to evolve and share resources to improve their research and development, by creating well-researched labs and invest in joint incubators, Forman said. “To continue to lead the charge, the city’s design schools are going to have to be better about coordinating their efforts,” Forman said.
Recent grads who stayed in New York added to the 28 percent of the fashion designers in the U.S. who work in the city. But the median hourly wage of $33.96 falls short of the U.S. average of $29.82 when adjusted with the cost of living, resulting in what is comparable to a $20 hourly rate. Given the city’s increasing lack of affordable housing, retail space and work space, it may not be surprising to learn just how strong the Los Angeles fashion hub has become.
The city’s ethnically diverse base of fashion designers also caught Forman’s attention, who noted that 45 percent are nonwhite. That has helped to make American designers more appealing to international companies that are working to build their businesses internationally, especially in Asia. He cited Alexander Wang’s retail expansion into Asia, Kenzo hiring Opening Ceremony’s Carol Lim and Humberto Leon, and Hugo Boss lining up Jason Wu. Going forward, American designers with foreign ties should continue to gain favor with international conglomerates like Kering, which took a minority stake in Joseph Altuzarra’s business in 2013, Forman said.
The Los Angeles metro area has seen a 136 percent jump in fashion designers during the last decade, according to the report. The 2014 median hourly wage gap, adjusted for the cost of living in L.A. versus Brooklyn, is $3.69 higher for Los Angeles-based fashion designers. FIT’s Emma McClendon noted in the report that L.A. may challenge New York’s fashion dominance in the next 20 years as it attracts more creative types from New York. Forman agreed, mentioning the CFDA’s West Coast outreach last fall as an example of the budding scene. “In the past, L.A. fashion was a lot of denim, but it’s no longer that way.” Forman said. “It’s more affordable and the proximity to Asia is appealing to a lot of people. L.A. is not an immediate threat to New York designers, but it is something we have to be very conscious of in New York.”
Aspiring fashion designers also have an assortment of other creative-minded cities to pursue, according to The Center for an Urban Future’s report. Portland, Ore.; Austin, Tex.; Nashville; Philadelphia; and Detroit are among the American cities with ample housing and arts-minded professions that are being marketed as creative hubs.