A GARMENT PLANT GROWS IN BROOKLYN

Byline: Eric Wilson

NEW YORK — In a move to bolster apparel manufacturing in Brooklyn, borough officials opened a subsidized industrial complex in the Sunset Park neighborhood Wednesday as an “incubator” project to help develop small garment businesses.
Organizers said four companies had signed contracts to take space in the complex, a 27,000-square-foot loft-like factory that overlooks the Gowanus Bay, with views of the Statue of Liberty and the fire-charred piers that were once part of the century-old Bush Terminal Warehouses.
Brooklyn Borough President Howard Golden held a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the factory, Brooklyn Mills, on Wednesday, calling it the first realized effort of a group of proposals to revive the borough’s garment industry. The plans were put forth in a study of the industry he issued in 1997.
There are spaces for six small apparel companies to house production and operations in the facility, which is also expected to include an apparel technology center, training centers and shared factory equipment. The project was designed to offer companies affordable space and reduced energy costs and taxes, and encourage them to establish a presence in Brooklyn as factory jobs continue to leave Manhattan.
The facility is located in a state Economic Development Zone and businesses that move their operations there get tax credits when they hire employees and purchase equipment. Golden allocated $718,000 in capital budget funds for the construction of Brooklyn Mills and the purchase of machinery and equipment.
The New York State Assembly provided $200,000 for the purchase of shared equipment and to provide training and technical assistance.
Other sponsors are the Independence Community Foundation, New York Community Trust, the Fund for the City of New York, Con Edison, BPD International Bank and Sterling National Bank.
The four companies that have signed leases to move into the facility, which will be managed by the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, are Eternal, a gothic-inspired men’s and women’s sportswear collection designed by Ming Walker; Wonderline, a lingerie company owned by Adam Nussbaum; Moshood Creations, a streetwear label based in Brooklyn with a store at 698 Fulton Street, and D’Mana Fashion, a men’s formalwear line owned by David Begel.
Eternal is a four-year-old company started by Walker in the East Village and Chinatown sections of Manhattan that sells mostly to catalogs. Walker said she will pay approximately $2,800 per month for a 6,000-square-foot space, less than half the rent she paid in Manhattan.
She was introduced to the Brooklyn Mills project through the Renaissance Economic Development Corp., a public-private partnership that helps small businesses.
“The rent is crazy in New York,” she said. “You can’t stay in Manhattan.”
Walker, who has used mostly subcontractors to fulfill her orders, which are expected to total $1 million this year, said she was eager to directly hire factory employees.
“I want to give my workers benefits,” she said. “I’m sick and tired of hearing about sweatshops. I don’t blame anyone that they exist, because I feel that the people who work in them and run them don’t know any better. They need to be educated.”
Moshood, an collection with an African theme, sold out of a store on Fulton Street in Brooklyn, is designed and owned by Moshood Afariogun, who said he was moving his factory operations to Sunset Park from the Bronx.
“This way I will have everything here in Brooklyn,” he said. “This is a small business, and in my case, I needed more space.”
Golden said one goal of the incubator project was to help companies like Moshood eventually outgrow the Sunset Park facility and move into larger spaces, leaving room for more small companies to take part in the project.
“More importantly, this helps bring small manufacturers together so that they can compete on the level of big manufacturers,” Golden said. “Also, we can see how employees are treated here.”
Each of the companies in the six spaces probably will employ 10 to 20 workers.
“This really has been taking place since 1984, when the Koch administration was talking about putting tolls on the Brooklyn Bridge and other East River bridges because there was so much traffic going into Manhattan,” Golden said. “It was at that time I got the idea that instead of taking the bridges into Manhattan, we could bring the garment center to Brooklyn.”
The garment industry is the largest producer of manufacturing jobs in Brooklyn, according to Golden, who added that the incubator project could help the industry grow to play an even more significant role in the borough’s economy.
Other recommendations in Golden’s 1997 report were to create a garment industrial park in an area with a large number of garment firms, to use vacant city-owned properties for the relocation and growth of apparel firms and a to launch a “Made in Brooklyn” campaign that would promote the purchase of garments designed and made in the borough to help develop overseas markets for these manufacturers.