NEW YORK — In an effort to bolster American-made fashion, Andrew Rosen is championing an initiative to create a modern, one-stop manufacturing facility in Manhattan that would enable fledgling designers to jump-start small businesses.

This story first appeared in the February 12, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

If executed, his vision would result in a 50,000- to 75,000-square-foot facility in the Garment District that would provide manufacturing, patternmaking, cutting, marking, grading and a variety of other services for designers. While a timetable and an exact location have not been set, the plan is to create a one-stop shop that would be considerably more sleek and modern than what exists, and one that would rival what is available in Asia, Rosen said.

Rosen, who produces 35 percent of the goods he sells in the U.S., seems to have really taken President Obama’s State of the Union we-need-to-out-innovate, out-educate and out-build message address to heart. (He didn’t just listen, he also read it.) Now the chief executive officer and president of Theory, who has invested in firms such as Rag & Bone and Alice & Olivia, is eager to put that ideology into practice by helping unproven designers.

In ongoing talks with Mayor Bloomberg’s office and the city’s office of Economic Development Corporation, Rosen said various sites are being considered but he declined to identify specific addresses. The way things stand now in the neighborhood, and throughout the city, apparel factories are too far-flung for time-starved designers. And Brooklyn and Long Island City, alternatives that have been suggested over the years, are too remote to attract quality labor and too inaccessible for designers, he said. “This would be a place for designers to come and create. That’s more important than giving them money,” he said.

An EDC spokeswoman said Friday, “We’re having promising conversations with industry stakeholders about projects designed to stabilize the garment center. Once we have a final proposal, we look forward to further engagement with the community as we work to put plans into action.”

Rosen hashed out his game plan Friday during a MAC- and Milk-hosted panel called “What Should We Be Doing?” at Milk Studios. Rather than cheerlead the roomful of New School students by sharing career highlights, Rosen and fellow panelists Tommy Hilfiger, Rogan Gregory and J Brand’s Jeff Rudes offered more practical advice, with moderator Simon Collins chiming in with more doses of reality from time to time.  Stephanie Rosenbloem was also on the panel. While primarily geared for students, their strategies could also be applied to more established designers and apparel companies:

 

  •  Use American factories especially ones in Manhattan, Los Angeles and those on the Eastern seaboard.
  •  Bonding with Apple and other technologically inclined companies could lead to advancements in production, marketing and merchandising that would help to make the U.S. more competitive with their Asian counterparts.
  •  Develop more technically advanced fabrics.
  • Get experience working for someone else.
  • Create a better link between Wall Street and the fashion industry to help finance small companies.
  • Set up a group or network of apparel executives who will mentor anyone who needs advice.

 

New York’s fashion business is estimated at $55 billion.

 

During the Q&A session after the panel, Nanette Lepore’s husband Bob Savage offered the only point in the discussion that was met with a round of applause — ask American companies to produce at least one or two styles in Manhattan to keep garment center factories running.

Hilfiger said he told his own daughter, Ally, who has just launched an apparel line, to start out by staying local. “My advice to her was to manufacture here in the beginning, to be very hands-on and to really establish her business. So her studio is inside a factory on West 39th Street,” he said. “But there are even really good factories in Pennsylvania and the South. Certainly California has the best denim manufacturing and they make great T-shirts, too.”

Mention of 39th Street reminded Rosen of a factory he used there that he used to drag his children to on Saturdays to check on his production. He was candid about the far-from-glamorous side of fashion. “I started out working in a knitting mill on Long Island and then I worked in a dress factory in New Bedford, Mass. Part of my success is from understanding how fabrics and clothing were made,” he said. “I feel very strongly that young people coming out of school should get a job. It’s always better to get experience and learn on somebody else’s dime.”

Gregory said, “The speed-to-market is so much faster here and minimums are not anywhere near what they do overseas. There is a huge advantage to starting out local.”

Hilfiger likes the prospect of getting Wall Street more invested in fashion companies, especially new ones. “I started out with $150 way back when. My biggest problem was I never had any money or financial backing,” the designer said. “If we could link the two together then 90 percent of their problems would be solved from the start.”  

Having the fashion industry team with Apple or another company to improve production could also be a major shot in the arm. “If we had an infusion of technology, people would then come to America from all over the world to produce clothes,” Hilfiger said.

In addition, just as iPad readers can now touch an image of an outfit and be directed to a site that sells it, the evolution of technology stands to be a major plus for the apparel industry, Rudes said. “There are so many ways the digital world can do for our industry,” he added.

But there is also a good deal that can be done from a human standpoint. After suggesting a group or network be established to mentor newcomers to the apparel business, Rudes said he makes a point of speaking with anyone who asks him for help. “I like to say I am a very expensive free consultant. It is important that we be available as we are here today. It’s about nurturing new young companies.”

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