It’s the big powwow tonight at Macy’s Herald Square.
That’s where about 75 of retailing and fashion’s leading figures will kick off an unprecedented, yearlong initiative with Mayor Bloomberg’s office, called Fashion NYC 2020, to brainstorm about the future and ramp up the city’s presence as a global force in fashion amid mounting international competition and outsourcing.
“We’ll talk about what we can do to ensure the fashion industry continues to be centered in New York and what can the city do to encourage job creation and income growth for small, medium and large fashion, wholesale and retail firms,” said Terry Lundgren, Macy’s Inc. chairman, chief executive officer and president. “This is intended to be a discussion, a Q&A, a learning and development session. The city is looking for concrete ideas. Innovation and talent development at the early career stage are on my list.”
“The whole purpose is to look ahead over the next 10 years and understand changes in the city’s environment, from manufacturing to marketing to design, and look at the implications and things we can do to maintain the city’s prominence in fashion and retail,” said Stephen I. Sadove, Saks Fifth Avenue’s chairman and ceo. “Whether this leads to collective action, some task forces or just fodder to think about, only time will tell. But I applaud Bob [Deputy Mayor Robert C. Lieber] and the city for thinking long term.”
Tonight’s event will begin with a panel discussion with Lundgren, Diane von Furstenberg, Gilt Groupe chairman and founder Kevin Ryan and Rick Darling, president of LF USA, the U.S. division of Li & Fung. The panel members are meant to represent a cross-section of sectors — retail, design, manufacturing/sourcing and e-commerce — with big stakes in New York. There will then be a dinner, followed by discussions with city officials at each table, who will take notes as executives serve up ideas.
“The Fashion NYC 2020 initiative provides a great opportunity for the industry to express its needs and advise New York City in its direction to stay innovative and competitive,” said Darling.
Other executives and designers expected to attend Fashion NYC 2020 include Roger Farah of Polo Ralph Lauren; Burt Tansky of Neiman Marcus; Millard “Mickey” Drexler of J. Crew Group; Michael Gould of Bloomingdale’s; Hearst’s Cathy Black; Jim Gold of Bergdorf Goodman; Sir Philip Green of Topshop; CFDA executive director Steven Kolb; the Fashion Center BID’s Barbara Randall; Kenneth Cole ceo Jill Granoff; swimwear designer Malia Mills, and accessories designer Philip Crangi.
“I am just going to listen and learn,” said Anna Wintour, Vogue’s editor in chief, who is expected to be among the attendees. Wintour spearheaded September’s Fashion’s Night Out, where retailers around New York and worldwide kept their doors open late and staged a variety of special events to get people through their doors and back to shopping. The mayor was a big backer.
Aside from preserving New York as America’s garment capital, topics to be tackled are likely to include:
• Bolstering business in the boroughs and stimulating tourism, possibly by providing shopping coupons or even subsidizing airline tickets.
• Street vendors and quality-of-life issues.
• Fashion’s Night Out, scheduled for Sept. 10, which could entail a no-sales-tax day and a fashion show for the general public.
• How to shorten the buying cycle so stores can sell more wear-now clothes and capture trends better.
• Technology, including sustainability, the new media and mobile marketing.
• Pop-up stores.
More than 800 fashion businesses are based here — twice as many as in Paris, its closest rival. With 175,000 people working in fashion and fashion retail in New York City, the sector generates $10 billion in total wages with tax revenues of $1.7 billion. The wholesale market results in more than $18 billion in yearly direct spending with New York City businesses.
“We recognize the importance of this industry and want to ensure New York remains the nation’s and the world’s center for this industry,” said Seth Pinsky, president of New York City’s Economic Development Corp.
In the future, the EDC plans to set up a series of discussions and workshops with a wide range of interested parties in the garment industry. The EDC also is working with consultants Bain & Co. to help assess the fashion industry’s needs. While the Garment Center’s zoning still has not been recast to ensure its fashion core — a fact that has lead to protests about maintaining manufacturing in New York — city officials and fashion executives have been pooling their expertise in recent months to try to drum up business and maintain New York’s status as a fashion capital. There also have been planning meetings at Gracie Mansion and elsewhere for Fashion NYC 2020.
In these days of tight city spending, the EDC has figured out a way to get NYC Fashion 2020 off the ground in “a very cost-effective manner,” using a relatively small contribution from the city and turning to the private sector for assistance, said Pinsky. For example, last fall, Bloomberg and the CFDA launched the NYC Fashion Incubator to provide below-market rates for design studio space and support services to up-and-coming designers — the upshot being they will be more inclined to build New York City-based businesses. The 10,000-square-foot space at 209 West 38th Street is operated by the CFDA.
The city also had a hand in relocating the biannual fashion week to Lincoln Center to better accommodate the burgeoning shows that are already attended by more than 578,000 people each year.
Through a similar effort for the media industry, Media NYC 2020, the mayor unveiled eight initiatives last summer to try to strengthen that rapidly changing sector. City officials and industry leaders in print, TV and online media brainstormed to develop strategies to enhance the city’s status as a global media capital.
Swimwear designer Mills, who has three stores in the city and produces an entirely American-made line, said she never could have gotten her business off the ground if she wasn’t based in New York. “I don’t really have any expectations about the event. I am mostly excited to hear what everyone has to say,” she said. “This industry has such incredible brain power. If we come together, we can do incredible things.”
Ryan of the Gilt Groupe said it was important that New York as a hub for the Internet be addressed. “Most people don’t realize how many successful Internet companies there are in the city.”
Aside from his participation in Fashion NYC 2020, Ryan is on the board of the New York City investment fund, which raised $100 million to invest in businesses with a New York City connection. He characterized Gilt as the largest e-commerce company in the city, with 370 employees, including 350 working here.
“It’s healthy to do brainstorming sessions,” Ryan said. “Sometimes you come up with great ideas, sometimes you don’t. But it’s never a bad idea to do it,” he said. “In general, I do find the mayor and the mayor’s office have been very forward-thinking, innovative and great to work with.”
Mayor Bloomberg will not be at the dinner, but he’s “very interested” in the proceedings, will be kept up to speed and will provide feedback, according to Pinsky.