Leota New York
The Leota Team

The Social Fabric of New York’s Garment District

This is the final story in a three-part series that begins to unfold the complexity and importance of New York City’s Garment District that cannot be understood quantitatively. The stories of designers Katie Fong, Sarah Carson, founder of Leota and Frank Tropiano are excerpts from Nicole Lau’s undergraduate thesis titled, “The Importance of the Garment District and Growth of ‘Made in NYC’” that she wrote as a senior at The New School submitted spring of this year.

The Social Fabric of New York's Garment District

A tight-knit community of support.

The Garment District is valuable to the fashion industry because of its physical density and layout of factories and supply stores that enable designers to literally piece together their creations. However, the social fabric of the neighborhood is also rich and crucial because it’s a tight-knit community that works together to support its people.

Sarah Carson especially credits this support system for her success. “What really allowed me to be successful was having my factory take a chance on me when I had no customers…I’m so grateful for that.” When Sarah first began her business, she didn’t have an office. She worked from home but also at the factory. In fact, Sarah spent so much time at the factory that it became a second home and the people she worked with felt like her extended family.

“I was spending so much time in the factory [that] eventually they said, ‘you know what, lets set up a desk for you’ so they put two little boards together… gave me a little pen cup, and they’re like, you have a desk here now! Everybody was clapping, it was the cutest! I kind of felt like I was their daughter. They really took me under their wing and really, really helped me grow.”

Frank Tropiano repeatedly mentioned how “kind and generous the workers are at BK Samples. “Because I work a regular design job, I’ll go before or after work. I’m lucky that they are accommodating, they’ll come in early or stay late.” The relationships that are built stem from the genuine desire to help one another succeed. They are invaluable and cannot be replicated elsewhere. When asked if Katie still shops at the same supply stores she did during college she replied, “Yes I do. It’s so funny because there are some fabric places that I go back to now and they remember me from when I was in college, when I was 19 and 20 years old.”

The personal connections the designers develop are the reason why they have a strong emotional attachment to the district. Even though Sarah currently manufacturers Leota’s collection in the Garment District and Sunset Park, Brooklyn, she continues to believe in the importance of the Garment District. Ideally, she would love to have three floors of a building in the Garment District to house her showroom, offices, design studio, shipping facility, and factory. Frank, who is committed to keep manufacturing in New York has similar hopes for the future.

No matter what, even if [the business] grows to a point where it is an internationally recognized label,…I would never move production anywhere. I would always keep it in New York City. It is just really something that important to me because the city is so important to me.

The interviews with these designers show that the Garment District is an intricate network that draws people together because it makes business sense and there is a desire to be among a community of makers and creators. What starts as an individual idea grows into a community project so that when a garment is in its completed form, it not only bears the name of the designer but the label Made in New York. It symbolizes all the hands that have helped bring it to life, high-quality and precision and the heartfelt relationships and dedicated collaborations between designers, manufacturers and suppliers. The label is a declaration of pride.

Nicole has a background in both Urban Studies and Fashion. She is currently the Communications Manager for Save the Garment Center, a non-profit organization that supports fashion companies in New York’s Garment District but also around New York City and throughout the USA. She also freelances for Dg Expo, a fabric and trim show held in New York City, San Francisco, and Miami. In the past, Nicole has interned for The Skyscraper Museum, researching architecture and urban history for exhibitions including Urban Fabric, The Architect’s Newspaper, and fashion designer Sue Stemp under her namesake label. She holds a BA in Urban Studies from Eugene Lang, The New School.

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