Deirdre Quinn, the chief executive officer and cofounder of Lafayette 148 New York, was on the sprawling 14th floor of Building 77 in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where the fashion brand relocates its headquarters next May.
“This is the spot where my design team will be. I want to give them the best view. They have to be inspired,” said Quinn, as she stood by the window to show the panoramic overlook of lower Manhattan.
The six designers, Quinn assured, will be right next to the rest of the Lafayette 148 New York team — the sewers, cutters, call center personnel, and the sales, marketing, merchandising, fabrics, production and IT groups, 200 people in all, working closely together. The majority of the operations of Lafayette 148 New York, a modern fashion brand known for fit and craftsmanship and priced a rung under designer prices, will be contained on the 14th floor, a big change from the current headquarters in SoHo on Lafayette Street, spread over seven floors.
Moving to the Navy Yard cuts the rent by two-thirds to about $30 a foot. “Employees are your biggest expense. The second biggest is my rent,” Quinn said. But there’s more to it than cost savings. It’s about innovation, Quinn said, and having a more efficient plant. Quinn said the move will change how her employees work together and communicate, and that the new environment provides room to grow the business and the team and will motivate everyone.
“I don’t want silos. It’s all about teamwork. Efficiency is essential to success,” Quinn said. “There will be some offices, but otherwise this will be a much more open-work environment. One department sits next to another.”
“We are having a great year. We are expanding in our shoes,” whether it’s the jewelry division, retailing in China and the U.S., or the call center, Quinn said. “I see the opportunities for the company.”
On Nov. 9, Mayor Bill de Blasio, local politicians, officials from the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Quinn and executives from other businesses officiated over the grand opening of the 1 million-square-foot Building 77. Once an abandoned windowless concrete bunker, it’s been redeveloped at a cost of $185 million to the New York City Economic Development Corp. and is the centerpiece of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, symbolizing hope for bringing back some manufacturing to the city and employment opportunity for middle- and working-class residents. Along with Lafayette 148 New York, Building 77 will house other manufacturers as well as tech companies, start-ups, robotics, food companies and restaurants, some of which have already opened. According to the officials, Building 77 is 82 percent leased.
“Russ and Daughters coming to Brooklyn is a big moment,” the Mayor told the crowd on the main floor of Building 77, lauding the famous 102-year restaurant with the hamish attitude. “Some restaurants represent the fullest truth of New York culture.”
“Building 77 is 1 million square feet of new opportunity for everyday New Yorkers bringing 3,000 new jobs to the Navy Yard in the next 18 months,” said David Ehrenberg, president and ceo of the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corp. “It’s going against decades of history” involving the city’s shrinking manufacturing base. More than 10,000 jobs will be ultimately added to the Brooklyn Navy Yard as more buildings in the complex get redeveloped. Brooklyn Navy Yard is located on the edge of the East River by Wallabout Basin, just south of Williamsburg. At its peak, the Navy Yard produced warships for the U.S. Navy. Now the city is pushing to reestablish it as a commercial center for thousands of workers, with different end uses.
“I’m keeping the industrial feel of the Navy Yard,” Quinn said, noting the polished concrete floors and exposed ceilings on her floor in Building 77. “But everything else will be new — new sewing machines, offices, kitchens, the showroom and we will have two roof decks. The best part is that there is room to grow here. We’ve got to keep evolving,” Quinn said, indicating that in addition to the 67,511-square-foot level 14, her firm is taking 27,752 square feet on level eight of Building 77, and could take space in another Navy Yard building. “We’re also looking to upgrade our warehouse facility to be state-of-the-art. It’s critical as we do more direct shipping, and if possible I would like to move it into the Navy Yard. We just have to find the right space.” The company has an 80,000-square-foot warehouse facility in the Brooklyn Army Terminal. “We’ve been there for 15 years.”
After its move, the fashion brand in SoHo will maintain 10,000 square feet on the eighth floor for some offices and a store, that if necessary will be a pop up showroom, twice a year, for major market weeks. “Not everyone is going to come out to Brooklyn,” Quinn acknowledged, though the Brooklyn Navy Yard is more accessible than many people realize. “The Navy Yard is an eight-minute Uber ride from 148 Lafayette.” It’s also about a 20-minute ride from Midtown, with no traffic, though it’s not particularly accessible by subway.
“Brooklyn is like this cool, creative community with this thriving vibe going on,” Quinn said. “I think there is a bright future in Brooklyn and I’m not just saying that because I am moving there,” as well as the company. “I moved to Navy Green, a new town house.”
The city hopes Brooklyn can become another garment city, making up for some of the decline of the sector on Seventh Avenue. Among most fashion firms, there’s still a reluctance to leave Manhattan, though the move by Lafayette 148 New York could inspire others. “I believe as an entrepreneur it’s absolutely possible,” Quinn said.