Former New York City Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen had an insider’s view of the fashion industry, and now she has recruited a few leaders for Women.nyc’s advisory board.
The city-sponsored women-led initiative that she created is designed to fight for gender equity in tech, media, education, business and other key pistons in the city’s economic engine. The board includes designers Maria Cornejo and Rebecca Minkoff; Joanna Coles; Rent the Runway’s Jennifer Hyman; Marie Claire’s Anne Fulenwider, and Hanky Panky’s Lida Orzeck and Gale Epstein.
“This is a really nice group of women who are nice and they’re obviously bad asses or they wouldn’t have been as successful as they have been. That’s exactly the combination of people that I want to hang out with. Take no prisoners — but also be a thoughtful caring person and want to help other women,” Glen said.
With “so much work to be done to really level the playing field for women in all sectors — in business, government and institutional life, New York City is incredibly well-positioned to take this on and to try to become a global example of a city that takes women’s empowerment really seriously,” Glen said. “If you want to do that, it ultimately has to be a big public-private partnership. It can’t all be driven by the government. You have to get all sectors involved in this work.”
In addition to being successful, the board consists of women who are committed to helping other women. Noting that not that many of them would ever be in the same room together, Glen said, “There’s something powerful about that. Someone who runs ConEd is talking to a fashion designer, or the head of The Wing talking to the president of a college. You can imagine what kinds of exciting ideas can come out of that group of women to hopefully make New York City even better by improving women’s lives.”
As deputy mayor, Glen spent a lot of time trying to ensure that the fashion industry could continue to grow and prosper “especially as it’s evolving so rapidly into more of a digital business and how that would impact designers in New York,” she said, noting some of the challenges of marrying the administration’s “really big focus on Made in New York in trying to keep manufacturing in New York. How do you marry that with the realities of a rapidly changing industry?”
Such dealings led her to Rent the Runway’s Hyman as well as the founders of Hanky Panky. “There is such a diversity in approaches in engaging with the fashion industry in New York that I wanted representation from all parts of it,” she said. “So much of fashion is targeted and marketed at women. That’s obviously changing a bit. Shouldn’t women be more powerful, be making more money and be more represented in leadership positions in the fashion industry than they even are today? There aren’t that many women who own their own labels and all the equity in their companies,” she said. “We need to do something and put our thumb on the scale to do that.”
While the city-backed Made in NY campus is under construction on Brooklyn’s waterfront to foster more apparel manufacturing and the entertainment industry, one of the upsides will be to ensure that young manufacturers, designers — and filmmakers — will have access to affordable space that “for the next 10 years they can stay and grow in this space and get down to the business of designing the perfect black dress, and not be worried about being kicked out,” she said.
One condition in lifting New York City’s garment center zoning protections was the city’s commitment to work with the private sector to identify a space in the garment district that could continue to be dedicated to manufacturing, Glen said. “That process is still happening. If you’re talking about expanding the fashion industry in New York, you really need to be thinking of this longer-term play, which many young designers are doing any way.”
She added, “Yes, we want to maintain a presence. There is still a fair amount going on in the garment center. But it’s mostly offices and showrooms. I think the future of manufacturing and even some of the showroom work is going to be more and more in the outer boroughs. The city has to make investments in that.”
When Amazon’s plans for a New York base fell through earlier this year, Glen was vocal about how that may have panned out differently had more senior-level women been involved. “That did get a little viral [laughs]. I do generally believe that when women are in positions of power and are the decisionmakers — this is by no means always the case — that creates a different dynamic. I stick with what I said: Had all the major players in the Amazon deal not have been men, it’s possible that it could have turned out differently. You can never prove a negative or a counterfactual but it’s another call to action with the respect to having women in positions of power, whether it’s in politics, corporations or institutions. Women’s voices need to be at the table. At the end of the day, we’re the consumers and the workers. We need to be part of those conversations.”
As for how the $25 billion Hudson Yards project panned out, the former deputy mayor noted how it was an initiative of the Bloomberg administration. “My personal opinion is that I probably would have preferred a different kind of design aesthetic and a different way in which the density was spread across the site. It’s incredibly important that Hudson Yards is successful because New York City needs to continue to build really great high-quality office buildings. It needs to be a pro-growth city. I don’t think we necessarily need to forgo good urban design that can be at more of a human scale.”
Glen added, “It’s not elite. It’s very Shanghai 15 years ago. To me, it doesn’t scream out New York. It screams out modern skyscraper city without necessarily the texture and the feeling that you get in other high-density districts in New York. I just think that’s a lost opportunity. I would have thought about the urban design a little differently. But the zoning and the design guidelines were adopted in the prior administration. For us, it’s just really important that we maintain the momentum. These are hugely important sub-office districts for the future of New York. So the debate about is-it-ugly, is-it-nice is sort of a quality debate. I think the bigger issue was at the time who knew whether New York City was going to come back from 9/11 and then come back from the financial crisis. It’s sort of a quality problem that we’re even complaining about the architecture.”
Her next career step has not yet been made, and Glen declined to comment about the types of jobs she is considering. “My whole life has been about improving cities and making cities places of interesting economic opportunities and exciting places where people can innovate and do the kinds of work that not only allows them to succeed but the whole community to succeed. That can be in building and a built environment. It can be in something like Women.nyc in saying that I really truly believe that if women can be more powerful, it will not just be better for women — it will be better for the whole city.”