Invest in the existing Garment District rather than “deport” it to Brooklyn.
That was the key takeaway at an urban manufacturing symposium spearheaded by Manhattan borough President Gale Brewer Monday afternoon.
During a panel discussion about the garment ecosystem, conversation became heated as proponents of different plans presented their views.
Speaking on behalf of the existing fashion district, designer Yeohlee Teng said she is asking for “equal investment” in the manufacturing that exists in Manhattan rather than only investing to relocate firms to Sunset Park in Brooklyn.
She said the convenience of having a cluster of support firms — pattern paper providers, sewers, notions companies — is essential to the success of any apparel brand. “We look at the district as an incubator,” she said, one that benefits existing and new manufacturers. And moving any of those pieces out of the fashion district, will lead to the demise of all.
Joe Ferrara, president of the New York Garment Suppliers Association, agreed. He said when the NYCEDC developed its plan to relocate fashion industry firms to Brooklyn, the manufacturers were not consulted. “The plan was developed by the landlords,” he said.
To rousing applause from the audience, Ferrera said his group has developed its own plan to present to the EDC that revolves around acquiring 500,000 square feet of space within the existing fashion district to house manufacturers who choose to remain in the neighborhood.
Teng and Ferrera were quick to take on Barbara Blair of the Garment District Alliance, who is in favor of lifting the zoning regulations that protect fashion manufacturing in Manhattan and believes Sunset Park is a viable alternative.
“Nobody argues the benefits of a cluster,” she said, “but we’re offering a secondary cluster with some assurance of a long-term protected place.”
An audience member then shouted that Blair be truthful and acknowledge that her group represents the landlords — which she did.