This very moment, a fabric supplier at 347 W. 36th Street is breaking down metal racks, preparing for their move to Queens near JFK Airport. At 247 W 35th Street, the sole garment production factory left in the building is 9 floors below a residential and commercial architecture firm. How the Garment District has changed over the years and how it continues to change, the construction of new hotels, the increase in tech startups and media firms moving in the district has been the center of discussion. But there is little said about the fashion community that remains there; even less on how the district continues to be important to the fashion industry today.
This three-part series 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.
You Can Make it in New YorkThe importance of quality control
Manufacturing locally allows designers to have as much control as possible over the sampling and production process which is important for maintaining quality, but it is especially necessary for emerging designers who cannot afford even the smallest mistakes and unforeseen changes that may arise in production.
Founder Sarah Carson launched Leota, a womenswear line of dresses, in 2011 in the Garment District because in Sarah’s words, doing business in the Garment District makes “business sense.” Sarah has been manufacturing in the Garment District since her very first sample because “you can start small and manage and grow the company instead of throwing all your money into a huge job overseas.”
Frank Tropiano, an up-and-coming designer who studied at Parsons, The New School for design, manufacturers his entire collection at BK Samples on 38th Street because it is more efficient, saving him both time and production cost.
“It is a lot easier to produce locally. You get rid of so many issues and little bumps you really don’t want to deal with when you are starting your business…I don’t want to have to wait two weeks to get a sample, see it fitted, and send it back to an overseas factory and go back and forth. I don’t have the time and I don’t want to pay for the shipping cost. By the time I ship that stuff back and forth…I might as well make it here.”
Designers also want to see their garments being produced to ensure they are made correctly and delivered on time.
Katie Fong launched her namesake label in 2012 after graduating from FIT, specializes in evening wear and uses a lot of embroidery and fine fabrics in her pieces. Katie is “very picky” about quality control and thus visits her factory regularly.
“When we are working with such fine fabrics and embroideries, every little thing matters, I ideally would like to be at my factory every other day or someone at my team…even through some of our embroideries are done in India, they do the sewing there and [then] hand it over here…[where] we put the whole garment together so that way I can see how everything is being made.”
Designers can stop by their factories to inspect the garments, change or correct the sewing. Since the turnover time is faster, they are able to quickly respond to their customers. If one garment is selling well, they can have more cut, sewn, and ready for sale within weeks. By manufacturing locally, designers work along side manufacturers to grow their business.
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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