Friday, 4 September 2009

Designers fear demise of New York's garment district

Designers worry about whether New York City can remain a fashion capital as the city debates changing zoning laws that have protected manufacturers from skyrocketing rents.

NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK, UNITED STATES REUTERS - New York City's garment district was once a hub of clothing manufacturing. In buildings across the district, which spans about 10 city blocks, seamstresses and fabric manufacturers could be seen busy at work helping the designers create their ready-to-wear collections. Thanks to a combination of outsourcing and gentrification most of that industry is now gone. It is estimated that only five percent of all clothes sold in the United States are made domestically.
Now there is concern that even that five percent will disappear. New York City is currently debating on whether to lift a 22-year-old zoning law. Many fear that without the protection of the zoning laws, rents could become prohibitive and local manufacturers would be priced out of the market.

Nanette Lepore is one designer who is adamant about preserving the district.

"I do 80 percent of my manufacturing in this neighborhood so in order for me to sustain my business the way I like to run it, I need this neighborhood to stay viable and the factories that I work with to remain here," said Lapore.

Nanette Lepore employs 120 full time employees. She started her business with a 5000 dollar (USD) loan and turned it into an 100 million dollar a year business. She now shows her collection in the tents at Bryant Park during Fashion Week. She says quality control is the main reason she choses to manufacture locally.

"One of the reasons why I have great quality with my clothing is because we can walk in and check it at any time," she said. "And we can pull production lots and fix the fit if something goes wrong. We have a lot more hands on. I don't want to have to move my business to China," said Lapore.

Lepore works with 10 factories in the area. One of them is R&C Apparel owned by Ramdat Harihar. He says building relationships with the designers is vitally important.

"We try to encourage let's say graduates from FIT or Parson's to come into the factory and see for themselves," said Harihar. "The practicality is if you see it, then you can know how to design a little more and create more designs."

Small designers and new designers say they need access to local manufacturers to survive. They say factories overseas are not an option because they require large orders in the hundreds of thousands.

"You need someone to give you a hand and to be a small scale partner and to really work with you to start to grow your dream and your business," said designer Juliana Labonte. "If you don't have someone that can make the first ten samples that you can get into a showroom, you don't ever have a prayer of getting things to the point that they'll be in a Bloomingdales, or a Bergdorf's or a Macy's or a JC Penney for that matter. It depends what your target is."

Even an organization that represents landlords agrees that the district is vital to New York City's status as a fashion capital.

"For this neighborhood and in fact this city to remain a fashion capital, you need to have the new talent that's s continually coming into the neighborhood, continually feeding the industry with new ideas and new perspectives and new designs and they need a place to make it," said Barbara Blaire Randall, Executive Director of the Fashion Center Business Improvement District

As the city prepares for the upcoming Fashion Week, the question looms whether New York City will remain one of the world's fashion capitals or whether that title is headed for the history books.