INDUSTRY PRAISES WORDS BUT WANTS ACTION
NEW YORK — So far, so good. Now, let’s get down to business.
That’s the general evaluation of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s first year in office from the fashion industry here.
Giuliani gets high marks from apparel executives for being highly visible at industry events and being vocal about the importance of the fashion sector to the city. They’re pleased he kept his promise to slash the hotel occupancy tax and are happy that his administration has been so supportive of the Fashion Center Business Improvement District.
Many feel, however, there hasn’t been much substance in the mayor’s actions so far. They say this is the year he needs to start delivering on some specifics. Many of the ideas they have are being developed and pursued by City Hall, according to Giuliani.
These key areas include:
Establishing a permanent fashion center for shows, exhibitions and a museum.
Tax breaks in the form of incentives for expanding or upgrading manufacturing, or by creating tax-free manufacturing zones.
City endorsement of and participation in marketing programs promoting the fashion industry.
Further enhancing the garment district to make it more pleasant to work here and more appealing to out-of-town buyers.
Many agree with Jerome A. Chazen, chairman of Liz Claiborne Inc., who said: “Mayor Giuliani has been very supportive of the fashion industry. He gets high marks for going out of his way on a number of occasions to speak at industry events to underscore how important he thinks this business is.”
But, added Chazen, “I don’t see too much happening in the form of financial support from the city.”
Chazen agrees with the proposal for a permanent fashion center and would like to see the administration further support the idea of the fashion industry as a tourist attraction, possibly with a “Sidewalk of Stars” on Seventh Avenue.
While Claiborne does little manufacturing in New York, Chazen said it’s important that city government encourage businesses to stay here.
“We do have our design and pattern-making and sample-making here,” Chazen said. “The last thing we want to see is companies leave the city. We saw too much of that in the last 20 years or so.
“One of the problems is that we are not together enough as an industry. It would be a terrific thing if the city, the BID, other industry organizations and big companies got together in a major way to promote New York fashion.”
Carvel Moore, executive director of the FCBID, said Giuliani has met with the group several times.
“We’re delighted the mayor is involved and interested in what we’re trying to do,” Moore said. “But we do think there is more we can do together. We recognize that the city is in a budgetary crisis, so we’re trying to get city support with ideas that have no cost.”
Moore said the city has been “extremely helpful” in coordinating its own sanitation and security efforts with those of the FCBID. Moore concurs with the mayor’s plans to help the industry in areas such as export services and marketing, and would like to see a decrease in the sales tax on apparel.
In the area of export assistance, Moore feels the city government could introduce different parties — like banks, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, manufacturers and export specialists — to facilitate marketing New York labels abroad.
Bud Konheim, president of Nicole Miller, said he’s been involved in trying to connect government and the industry through a marketing campaign that would promote “Made in New York” or “Created in New York” fashion.
As a member of Giuliani’s campaign finance committee, Konheim has discussed the plan with members of the administration and is pressing them for some action, and is “thrilled to hear he has committed to it.”
“Between what Giuliani and the Fashion Center BID has done for cleaning up neighborhood crime and dirt, and lowering the hotel tax rates, it’s now time to get government involved in promoting its most important industry,” Konheim said. “One of the problems is that the industry itself is so fragmented with different interests that it’s difficult to get a consensus on a plan to improve the industry.”
Bruce Herman, president of the GIDC, said the mayor and his staff have shown a keen interest in the GIDC’s efforts, particularly its Fashion Exports New York program, which helps companies sell their goods abroad.
“The mayor is very supportive of organizations like ours that are funded by and serve the private and public sectors,” Herman said. “I think the administration recognizes the importance of solidifying the manufacturing base here, and we look forward to working with it on developing some specific programs.” These include worker training and improving technology and manufacturing capacities.
Paul Lau, general manager of the Greater Blouse, Skirt and Undergarment Association, said he met with Rudy Washington, commissioner of the city’s Department of Business Services, this month to discuss a marketing campaign.
“He said we’ll be hearing from the mayor in the next couple of months on backing such a program,” Lau said, adding that the administration also discussed possible tax breaks for creating manufacturing jobs here.
“I think Giuliani’s doing a great job,” said Chuck Krieger, president of Augustus Clothiers. “The decrease in crime has had a true impact. The area where we have our factory and distribution center, which is on the border of Brooklyn and Queens, has improved dramatically. The prostitutes are gone. There’s less crime and less graffiti, and buyers that come to the factory are taking the subway again.”
Krieger said the same is true for the Seventh Avenue area, where the firm’s showroom is located, and where the FCBID and an increased New York City police presence has made for an overall “safer feeling.”
Krieger said as a New York manufacturer, his company would be helped by real estate tax abatements and grants for job training and capital improvement to encourage investment in new jobs.
Ricki Freeman, owner of Teri Jon, said the streets are cleaner and safer, and the atmosphere and perception of New York has changed since Giuliani took office and since the FCBID was initiated.
“The whole area is moving in the right direction,” Freeman said. “Of course, more can be done, and I think Giuliani will do it. He’s only been in office a year, so you’ve got to give him time. The buyers are coming back to New York, and I don’t hear as much New York-bashing.”
Josh Lipman, president of Cuddlecoat, said: “This country — local, state and federal — should be doing what every other industrialized country does to help business develop product: offer tax incentives for manufacturing and job creation and ease credit and banking laws.”
Lipman credits Giuliani for cutting the hotel occupancy tax and for making the streets safer through better policing. He would like to see the city and state lower the sales tax on apparel.
Dede Shipman, president of Mary McFadden, said: “We need to make the fashion district as safe and clean and accessible as possible for out-of-town buyers and press.”
Shipman feels Giuliani’s hands are tied financially because of the city’s budget constraints.
“I would like to see the mayor and the governor work together to promote the industry,” Shipman said. “Cutting the hotel tax was a start, and the reduction in crime is a big help. It’s really up to the industry to come up with ideas that don’t cost money, but can be helped along by government support.”