Midtown, N.Y. is the fashion capital of America, similar to other fashion capitals such as Milan, Paris, London and Tokyo. The Fashion District has lent a home to many established and up-and-coming apparel companies. Not only is it responsible for nurturing and growing businesses, it also supplies thousands of jobs for both Americans and immigrants, and generates over $14 billion in annual sales. A single runway show can mean work for 350 factory workers. It is the place where designs and trends are created and then replicated worldwide.
However, this magical place on Seventh Avenue between 34th and 42nd Street is slowly depleting. It is heading down the track to becoming extinct, just as Philadelphia’s once-hopping fashion district is now nonexistent. The Garment District is slowly fading away one shop at a time, hindering any growth for major companies. Consequently, these companies are now required to send their garments overseas to be produced at a much lesser cost. Small, family-owned companies that have been in place for many years are being forced to close because there is no business. Apparel businesses have been overtaken by commercial businesses. Rent for buildings in this district have increased drastically, making it next to impossible for new and upcoming designers to start a viable business in New York.
People do not realize the scope of how this will negatively impact the employment rate and economy in New York. It will also affect all of the undergraduate fashion and design and merchandising majors who will have no jobs to enter into upon graduation. Asian immigrants specifically who come to the U.S. as sewers now have to look for other means for making an income.
Overseas workers are being exploited; they are paid below minimum wage, believe in child labor and work in questionable conditions. One designer from a handbag company who took an overseas trip said that the factories were “so hot with no ventilation; I could barely breath.”
To make a valiant attempt at remedying this issue, world-renowned designer Nanette Lepore, Lepore’s assistant Erica Wolf and President of Nanette Lepore, Robert Savage, have led the fight to “save the garment center.” They have gained the support of many big designers such as Anna Sui and Michael Kors, and have started a “Made in America” campaign. All of the employees at Nanette Lepore, many other New York-based companies, and many of the factories and supply stores have gathered each year with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to fight for their cause.
Lepore does not just rally for this cause – she practices what she preaches. Lepore produces 90% of her clothes in the New York City garment district. All of her samples are made in-house; this process includes sewing, hand dying, embroidery, beadwork, patternmaking, and so forth. When it is time for mass production, all of her garments are produced in factories located in New York.
This issue has recently caught the eyes of many important individuals. Twenty White House Fellows, who are a part of one of America’s most prestigious programs for leadership and public service, have taken notice of the issue at hand. They work for the White House staff, the Vice President, the First Lady and have other jobs of high rank. They are interested in political, social, economic and environmental issues; recently in New York, they have visited Ground Zero, Mayor Bloomberg, Mayer Sawyer, ABC and Lepore. Wolf showed them around Nanette Lepore’s design studio and showroom and brought to their attention the issue at hand. They are now currently trying to think of ways that the garment district can be saved. You can join the fight and learn more by visiting www.savethegarmentcenter.org