Why ‘Made in New York’ Could Revive US Apparel Manufacturing

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Photo: Courtesy of NYCEDC

The foundations for domestic apparel manufacturing may be in New York City’s own backyard.

Back in the 1930s, New York City’s garment district contained the largest amount of apparel manufacturers in the world. According to the Joint Economic Committee of the United States Congress, the U.S. apparel industry has lost more than 85 percent of its workforce since the ‘90s, due to a slew of clothing companies shifting their production overseas. Today, less than 5 percent of clothing sold in the U.S. is manufactured in the New York City area.

At a time where the retail sector remains unstable, industry members have come together to discuss the possibility of reviving the New York City area as a garment empire. According to panelists at a recent EcoSessions discussion, the greater New York City area, including Brooklyn, is promising for domestic apparel manufacturing. At the talk, panelists highlighted the benefits and challenges of this apparel manufacturing shift and why it’s important for consumers everywhere.

“We are seeing this trend where designers are moving to Sunset Park,” New York City Economic Development Corporation Center for Urban Innovation SVP Kate Daly said. “Sunset Park has already emerged as a hub, so we wanted to expand more opportunities.”

On Feb. 14, NYCEDC and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the development of a new manufacturing center in Sunset Park, a neighborhood in the western part of Brooklyn. New York City invested $136 million in the project, which will establish more than 1,500 permanent jobs in the vicinity. The Made in New York Campus will be completed in 2020 and is expected to provide affordable industrial facilities for garment manufacturing and media production. With the hub, apparel manufacturers and emerging designers could get the proper grounding to start their businesses.

Although moving apparel manufacturing to places like Brooklyn could be beneficial on an economic level, it also has its drawbacks. Many clothing production businesses have been grounded in the Garment District for decades and as generations change, most are less likely to go elsewhere.

“Brooklyn is going to happen,” Johnny’s Fashion Studio project manager Joann Kim said. “A majority of factory owners are a bit hesitant to change, but the biggest issue is, who is going to go first?”

Emerging designers are also finding it difficult to break into the city’s fashion sector, since apparel manufacturing is scarce and costly in the area. What’s more, many emerging designers are in control of their own sourcing and fabric selections, which could be difficult to manage if garment production remains minimal in the New York City area.

“When you are making your own clothes, you have to buy all the finishings,” Mimi Plange creative director Mimi Plange said. “When you are making garments overseas, you don’t have to worry about those things.”

Despite challenges, the New York City area could be the solution for America’s absent apparel manufacturing. With the recent political landscape and push to bring production back to the U.S., the New York City area could again serve as America’s major manufacturing hub. Beyond relocation of staff and materials, consumers are at the heart of this movement too. If consumers buy local and minimize their fast fashion purchases, apparel manufacturing will be more likely to happen in the city in coming years.

“People could connect with the garment a little more than if it was made somewhere they have never been,” Cadet CEO Bradley Schmidt said. “It has more of a story.”


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