Is the Garment District Better Off in Brooklyn?

Garment District, Manufacturing

New York City’s Garment District, also known as the Fashion District, is home to the many factories, fabric shops, and trim suppliers that make up the New York fashion industry. As New York remains one of the hailed fashion capitals of the world, its city’s manufacturing base has very little to show for it. With rising rents, increasing labor costs, and outdated facilities; domestic factories simply can’t compete with the cheap efficiency of labor abroad. Today the 419 companies that remain in the garment district can benefit from their proximity to designer fashion houses, the theatre district, and each other. However, Mayor De Blasio’s plan to save the garment district involves an abrupt relocation from mid-Manhattan to Sunset Park, Brooklyn where businesses are promised affordable rent and more space. While lower rent and better facilities are important, will this move be beneficial or harmful to the businesses and designers involved?

The Garment District and its Significance in American Fashion

American Fashion truly came into its own during the post-WWII years. For the first time, American designers were forced to create their own silhouettes having lost access to the European runways. After the arrival of NYFW and the growing influx of mass-produced clothing, New York’s garment district became a fashion mecca- employing 323,669 workers by the 1950’s. As the industry’s economy grew, a paralleled level of productivity occurred. Interestingly, the garment district’s efficiency and longevity didn’t rely on speed or technology as much as proximity and relationships. The garment district’s efficiency and longevity don't rely on speed or technology as much as proximity and relationships. Click To Tweet The interdependence built between the fabric suppliers, cutting rooms and sample rooms fostered a self-sustaining community of manufacturing that remains the heartbeat of the New York fashion industry.

How Cheap Outsourcing Took a Dramatic Toll on the Garment District

During the late 1970’s, the outsourcing of cheap labor became more and more prevalent. By 1987, a New York City zoning rule was established to help preserve Manhattan’s Garment District. As overseas production and manufacturing competition ensued, there was hope that the regulations would protect remaining companies from being forced out by increasing rents and operating costs. The ruling stipulated that owners of property within the Garment District were required to allocate half of the office and warehouse space to fashion and manufacturing companies. Despite its implementation, however, the policy was never strongly enforced and the industry remained in steady decline. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the industry experienced another shift as the emerging trend of low-cost, disposable fashion resulted in a demand for even cheaper labor and manufacturing costs. The fast-paced consumer trends along with the pressure to source cheaper labor throughout China and Southeast Asia drove many fashion houses’ production outside of America and left our domestic manufacturers with little to no clientele. Building owners have since claimed that there’s insufficient demand for the manufacturing spaces they are required to maintain. As companies started going out of business, much of the real estate in this district has been either underutilized or occupied by industries outside of fashion.

The Garment Industry’s Potential Relocation to Sunset Park

In recent efforts to stabilize and revitalize what’s left of the New York City garment industry, the city proposed a new plan via the NYCEDC (New York City Economic Development Corporation). The plan includes a $115 million-dollar renovation to the Brooklyn Army Terminal which expanded manufacturing space by 500,000 sq. feet in 2017. The CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America) and the NYCEDC also launched the Fashion Manufacturing Initiative (FMI) which has awarded over $2 million in grants to New York-based supplier and manufacturing companies since 2014. These grants pay for new technology like 3-D printers, pattern-making software, laser cutting and moving fees to those relocating to Sunset Park. Winners of the grant also receive skills training courses for their employees and a feature on New York City Production Database on CFDA.com. FMI’s primary goal is to preserve and cultivate garment production in New York City within any five of the boroughs. Both projects were backed by the Garment District Alliance. While these programs are preserving and promoting domestic production, there are no programs in place that seek to preserve the Manhattan Garment District specifically. With manufacturers dispersed over the five boroughs, the tight-knit centrality that is alive in Manhattan will continue to be threatened.

Why the Centrality of Manhattan’s Garment District Must be Preserved

With facilities spanning a five-minute walk from the other, it’s common to spot fabric suppliers lugging rolls of fabric to cutting rooms on hand-trucks and cutters delivering pounds of cut-work to sample rooms in the neighborhood. As a result, designers can trust their suppliers, cutters, and makers to reach each other quickly and conveniently. If problems arise, a designer can quickly visit manufacturers to communicate one-on-one. Admittedly, it’s very difficult for busy designers to get away from their desks for just 15 minutes to meet with a vendor located in the same building or down the street– let alone a vendor who is a 60-minute subway ride away in Sunset Park.

Sixty-five percent of design houses have already claimed that a possible relocation to Sunset Park, will only further motivate them to take production overseas- and this is understandable. Most design studios are in midtown or downtown Manhattan, which isn’t so conveniently close to this part of Brooklyn. The concentration of talent and resources in such a central location is convenient and essential to designers who want to manage and oversee their development and production processes. If the fashion houses and the theatre district aren’t relocating to Brooklyn, it’s unfair to relocate their suppliers and manufacturers. The intimacy of Manhattan’s Garment district fits together like a puzzle piece. The fabric and trim shops, the designers, the cutting rooms, and the makers all need each other. If one part suffers, the other suffers. The intimacy of Manhattan’s Garment district fits together like a puzzle piece. The fabric and trim shops, the designers, the cutting rooms, and the makers all need each other. If one part suffers, the other suffers. Click To Tweet

How Emerging Designers Can Keep the Garment District Alive

Emerging designers can keep Manhattan’s garment district alive simply by producing their lines in Manhattan! Domestic suppliers and manufacturers are more willing to work with emerging, start-up designers than those overseas. Fabric minimums are lower when working with vendors in NYC and factories allow flexibility to produce fewer units. The main reason we started our Fashion District Manufacturing Tour was to connect talented designers with the best makers and suppliers in Manhattan, while simultaneously bringing them potential business partnerships and revenue. Together we can all help each other and hopefully see Manhattan’s Garment District stay around for years to come.

For more fashion industry info, we invite you to join our Fearless Fashionpreneur Group on Facebook! If you’re a designer who’s considering a line, our Manufacturing Tour is a great first step. You can sign up here for the next tour where you’ll meet wholesale fabric vendors, leather suppliers, cutting and sample-room managers, print-makers and more!

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