NEW YORK — How integral immigrants are to the fashion industry was a recurring theme at Wednesday morning’s press conference with New York Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney.
This story first appeared in the February 9, 2017 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
As seems to be the case with public events of any kind, the discussion inevitably had a political undertone. After running through some of the strengths of New York City’s fashion industry — 900-plus companies generating $98 billion in annual revenues and creating more than 180,000 jobs — the politician shared the stage at Skylight Clarkson Square with 10 New York-rooted designers who make their collections in the city. Bibhu Mohapatra spoke of building his own business as an immigrant, and Leota founder Sarah Carson described how immigrants make her collections.
“We are a country of immigrants. We are all immigrants. My ancestors were immigrants. Part of our tradition has been the Statue of Liberty, which has opened the door for those yearning to be free and wanting to create,” Maloney said. “As you heard from many of the people who spoke today, their industry, like many industries are dependent on immigrant contributions.”
Referring to the executive order President Trump signed last month aimed at seven Muslim-majority countries, Maloney said, “This ban, we’re going to fight it in Congress. We’re going to fight it in courts and we’re going to fight it importantly in the court of public opinion and get in our democracy the support of people behind us. Already, several of the aspects of it have been overturned in the court system.”
IMG Fashion’s senior vice president and managing director Catherine Bennett made the point that designers from 18 countries will be showing their collections during New York Fashion Week. “Every year this report comes out and really solidifies the importance of why we do what we do. It reminds us of the global impact New York City has on the city, its designers and business owners,” she said.
Noting there are more designers in New York City than elsewhere in the entire country combined, Maloney said the industry accounts for 6 percent of the city’s private sector, representing 30 percent of all manufacturing jobs in the five boroughs. Citing potential trade changes with the North American Free Trade Agreement and other regions, she added, “We believe that more of those manufacturing jobs will be coming back to New York.”
With all of her production based in the city, Shahla Karimi, designer of the accessories label that bears her name, referred to such benefits as speed to market, control over production, job creation and job retention. “Without these small factories that are willing to work with no minimums and are willing to lend their expertise to new designers, there would be a great barrier to entry. It allows young entrepreneurs to have much success and that success inspires more designers…And new designers bring fresh perspectives, ideas and new production techniques. That causes evolution for my peers and more established designers. I’m asking that we keep our factories open by keeping them here and giving them business,” she said.
B. Michael emphasized that he has always made his signature collection in New York since he started his career and continues to with his first ready-to-wear line. “We can are hands-on and can control quality. We know the people who are manufacturing our clothing and can ask about their children. It’s a really village — New York City’s garment center,” he said. “But it’s really important to send that message to the world and to consumers to encourage them to support designers who are committed to building product in New York City.”