Appeared In
Special Issue
WWD Special Report issue 09/08/2009

NEW YORK — In public appearances with the fashion crowd, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is often the first to jest about his lack of style. But his involvement with Fashion’s Night Out is far from lighthearted.

All too up-to-speed with how many New York-based businesses are ailing or just trying to stay afloat, Bloomberg had no cause to pause after Vogue editor in chief Anna Wintour and Diane von Furstenberg, president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, approached him a few months ago to propose the citywide extravaganza. The mayor described the fashion industry as “a vital part of the city’s economy.”

This story first appeared in the September 8, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Though he did not specify, New York’s economy is the largest regional one in the U.S. and ranks second internationally to Tokyo. Bloomberg did note how the apparel industry employs more than 175,000 New Yorkers and generates more than $1.6 billion in annual tax revenue. Fashion week alone reels in more than 232,000 visitors from all over the world and generates more than $466 million in visitor spending.

“As importantly, it contributes so much to the city’s creative atmosphere and energy, which is a big reason why so many people want to live and work here,” Bloomberg said.

The mayor, who successfully lobbied for an amendment to the city’s term limits law and is campaigning for his third consecutive term, will be front-and-center at the evening’s kickoff festivities at the Queens Center Mall, before dropping by several stores to catch some of the fanfare. In total, 800 retailers in the five boroughs will be participating, the result of a concerted effort between NYC & Company, the city’s marketing, tourism and partnership organization, and fashion industry executives. Given the breadth of activities, the mayor will be ferried to his destinations instead of jumping on the subway as he routinely does to get to City Hall.

Bloomberg, who is the majority stakeholder in the financial software services company that he founded and bears his name, knows the power of capitalism, especially in trying financial times such as these. He was the eighth wealthiest American with a net worth of $16 billion in last year’s Forbes 400 list.

“This is an incredibly tough economic environment. It’s going to take increased consumer confidence and spending to turn things around. From the city’s standpoint, we’re doing everything we can to encourage tourists and residents to support New York City’s retailers, reignite consumer spending, and boost the local economy,” he said. “And the Department of Small Business Services continues to work with local area Business Improvement Districts in all five boroughs on ways to promote retail and shopping.”

Once the dust settles on Fashion’s Night Out, city officials will size up the event with participating stores. FNO could “very well” become an annual event, due to the strong response from retailers and the fashion industry at large, Bloomberg said.

Beyond offering attendees an array of events and spotlighting some of the city’s design talent, the evening is aimed at encouraging shoppers to open their wallets to bolster the economy and celebrate Seventh Avenue, Bloomberg said. There is also a charitable component for New Yorkers — a clothing drive that will benefit the NYC AIDS Fund and a T-shirt sale that will benefit the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, he added.

As for whether New York will see a resurgence in apparel manufacturing in the wake of the worldwide financial fallout, as some analysts have suggested, Bloomberg was not sold on the prospect.

“U.S.-based manufacturing in many sectors has been declining for years, and apparel is no exception to the trend,” the mayor said. “It’s not realistic to think New York City will see a return of large-scale apparel manufacturing, but we are very optimistic about the future of the fashion industry in the city and we are committed to ensuring that the industry has the manufacturing resources it needs to grow and thrive here.”

He also addressed — however obliquely — the status of the Garment Center’s proposed rezoning, which has been an ongoing source of contention with some longtime apparel industry tenants who have suggested city officials and developers are raising rents to squeeze them out of the neighborhood. “We’re working through a solution with all of the Garment Center stakeholders. We’ve always said the Garment Center should remain and prosper as the center of the fashion industry, and we will continue to act to preserve its critical core,” Bloomberg said.

Whether the city will put into place a Made in NY incentive for fashion remains to be seen. “Over the coming months, we will continue to work with leaders in the fashion industry, designers, manufacturers and other stakeholders to see what we can do to promote the industry more successfully. We want to ensure that the industry remains healthy and can prosper in New York City,” Bloomberg said.

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