With the prospect of Manhattan’s Garment District yielding to high-rise condos complicating life for fashion companies, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D., N.Y.) and industry executives are calling for closer ties between industry and government.
During a Friday panel discussion hosted by Fordham University’s Fashion Law Institute on “frontiers and land mines for fashion entrepreneurs,” the controversial border adjustment tax proposed by President Donald Trump and the possible rezoning of Manhattan’s Garment District, which plans to move the area and many business deep into Brooklyn, were top of mind. But the rezoning took over the conversation.
While the panelists, including Nanette Lepore; Maloney; Gary Wassner of Hildun Corp. and InterLuxe, and Christine Helm of the Fashion Institute of Technology, among others, fell short of coming out against the rezoning, all agreed that the district needs to remain a district — somewhere.
“It’s wonderful to think that we can move factories to somewhere in Long Island City or in Greenpoint or wherever, but the reality is, you need to be able to run across the street,” Wassner said. “You can’t take an hour-and-a-half to get to Brooklyn and back and [the government is] not relating to this in a way that makes sense to the industry itself.”
To illustrate his point of what he characterized as a “disconnect” between what the government in general thinks the fashion industry needs and what it actually needs, Wassner pointed out that he had never met Congresswoman Maloney, despite his years of involvement in government fashion working groups and advocacy, and hers as well.
“I’ve gotten beautiful letters from the mayor’s office congratulating me and welcoming me to the Fashion Industry Working Group and we have not once met — it’s been four years,” Wassner said.
He went on to say that when the industry voices grievances or concerns with the government, like current zoning regulations in the Garment District being unenforced, they’re often ignored or left unresolved.
Maloney’s solution: an official fashion industry lobby.
“You’ve got to start an organization that represents all of you and that represents your interests because you’re artists, you’re working all the time, you don’t have time to go to Washington D.C. and tell us,” Maloney said.
Without a lobby and a consensus on some core priorities, Maloney said the fashion industry faces an uphill battle, including with the Garment District rezoning.
“If you don’t become [a lobby] and fight for it, you’re fighting against real estate companies that have billions and billions of dollars and you’re going to lose.”
She went on to allude to problems with the industry’s lack of collective effort, saying she formed a Fashion Caucus in 2010 and is only recently hearing directly from some in the industry, and only over their concern with the border tax.
“You’ve got to have someone you can call that will then notify your city, state and federal regulators when there is a violation or an issue and then we can come in and back you up,” Maloney said. “We can’t find it on our own.”