Fashion textile manufacturing in New York City might not see a return of the days when the garment district had the largest number of apparel-makers in the world, but a growing desire by consumers to own locally made goods is transforming the sector.
That was the key theme of a panel discussion, “Made in NYC,” presented by Lenzing Fibers Inc. during the International Texworld Trade Fair at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on Tuesday. The panelists included Eric Johnson, director of fashion and arts at the New York City Economic Development Corp., Michelle Feinberg, president of the New York Embroidery Studio, and Erin Kent, manager of programs at the Council of Fashion Designers of America.
Johnson framed the discussion by noting that the fashion apparel textile sector is composed of more than 20,000 jobs in New York City — a “large portion of the 180,000 fashion industry jobs located here,” he said, adding that the textile trades “are an important part of the industry” and serves as its “lifeblood.” Designers and fashion editors need tangible products, which drives a bulk of the business in the sector, he said.
But there is a growing trend where consumers increasingly desire locally made apparel and accessories. Born out of the national “buy local” movement, shoppers are consciously seeking “Made in the U.S.” products. As a result, the NYCEDC is partnering with the CFDA to support textile trade companies via the Fashion Manufacturing Initiative.
Kent said the FMI program focuses on nurturing and developing garment production in the city. To date, more than a dozen local companies have received matching grants of $300,000 through the program, which included Feinberg’s studio. Kent said the program is in its third round of funding. When asked if the return of local manufacturing in the garment trades is “for real,” the panelists were quick to respond.
“It is very real indeed,” Kent said, adding there have been significant investments made in the garment industry in the post-recession period. “There is also strong support and commitment from designers, and the CFDA,” she said.
Johnson agreed, and noted that three to five percent of apparel is made in the U.S., and said “there’s no way to go, but up from there.” Indeed, according to several recent reports, about 40 percent of retailers plan to source apparel goods from the U.S. — which includes companies such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. The increased desire to source more products locally or regionally is also driven by changes in the supply chain as retailers take on an omnichannel approach to business.