The Garment Center, We Make You Look Good!

036_52_garment_districtHey, guess what? Your clothes don’t just make themselves!  When people think fashion, the image that often comes to mind is some glossy Hollywood version of the fashion industry. Beautiful people in couture clothes and f-me pumps, sketching a gown or two, yelling at an assistant, draping a form, and then partying the night away with a celeb or two. Then poof, like magic, a clothing line appears.  That’s just not reality.  Even for the few glamorous hi-end designers out there, who may lead the uber-chic lifestyle, there is still a lot of hard, get your hands dirty, work involved in producing clothing.  Whether it is the most fantastic designer gown or the tank top you picked up at Target last weekend, the odds are that at some point in its development that item passed through our little neighborhood.  New York’s garment center is the US fashion hub for every category of apparel. Whether the average consumer realizes it or not, these few blocks in Midtown Manhattan are likely responsible for most of everyone’s wardrobe.  Our neighborhood is responsible for 47 billion dollars of fashion industry revenue, more than London and Paris combined!  Additionally, we have tens of thousands of New Yorkers employed, working long and hard to properly dress the world. It is long overdue that the average consumer realized how and where their clothing came to be.

The garment center is not all Vera Wang and Marc Jacobs, although they are talented residents as well. The Garment Center includes big business as, like Jones New York, Macys, Liz Claiborne, and American Eagle, as wall as, the many manufactures and designers that supply Target, Wal-mart, and Sears.  Rarely, is one clothing line made by one designer at their namesake company.  For instance, Jones Apparel is one of the larger clothing companies here but they own more than just the Jones New York label including, AK Anne Klein, Kasper, Nine West, Lei, Grane Jeans, Erika, Gloria Vanderbilt, and Dockers to name a few. Another common misconception is that one label is designed by one company alone.  This is especially true when you buy private label. Look at an item of clothing you bought at department store or mass-marketer, don’t recognize the name on the label? Or do you know that that “brand” is only available at that store?  Well that means it probably private label. While some of these may be made by the retailer’s design team, often these garments come from several different manufactures each with their own design team. What basically happens is the store’s buyer comes to NYC, picks which items they will buy from which company, (based on what they like, what they believe will sell, and who quotes the best price) and then the chosen pieces receive the same labeling, even though they were not all designed together.  Even more misunderstood is how the average brand is created, which is usually not as part of a collection.  People have images of designers (usually from the movies and TV) sketching out a group of looks, tops, bottoms, jackets, etc. for a runway collection, and in turn they believe that is how a line is created. Now of course, many high-end designers do work that way, as well as, smaller indie designers. However, when you go to the mall or department store or Wal-mart to buy clothes, we can pretty much guarantee they were not designed that way.   It takes a team of people and often several different companies to run those brands. For example when you buy a Calvin Klein designer dress shirt, a pair of CK jeans, and a bra and panty set of Calvins, not only were they not designed by one person or one team, they were not even made by the same company.  Similarly when buying from a vertical retailer (like The Gap) or a collection label (Michael Kors) the item may be produced by the same company, but not designed by the same person. In most cases fashion designers have a specialty. You may be a women’s tops designer, a bra designer, a denim designer, a children’s outerwear designer etc. so even in the same company it will take a team of people to design a single outfit.  All these different types of companies, large and small, fill the offices in our unique little neighborhood.

Now, all of that has to do mostly with the designing and business end of fashion, but there is also the production to think about.  Here in the Garment Center, we still have many factories that actually produce apparel.  While much of the above mentioned companies work with overseas factories, in order to keep the prices competitive for the average American, others are helping save American manufacturing by producing goods right here in NYC.  We cannot discuss fashion, and the business of fashion, without mentioning the importance of domestic production.  As we’ve all heard about so much with our current recession, the manufacturing in this country is disappearing.  Not too long ago, the apparel industry was the #1 manufacturing sector in the US not the auto industry.  As jobs moved overseas the garment center suffered; our neighborhood shrunk in size and in jobs. Now the consumer can buy a t-shirt at Wal-mart (made in China) for less than a loaf of bread.  Thankfully, there are some who are working very hard to keep the production end of our industry alive and well in NYC.  Many of these are the big name designers who can afford to charge accordingly for their product. Additionally, many designers are making domestic production an important issue like saving the environment.  “Save the Garment Center is a campaign spearheaded by designer Anna Sui to preserve New York City’s fading Garment District. The loss of jobs and culture as a result of non-conducive zoning laws has led many in the industry to join together on a campaign to save what is left of the once vibrant Garment Center.” The shrinking of the Garment Center is detrimental to the development of young, new designers who can’t compete in real estate costs with the big boys, as well as, the secondary vendors who rely on local designers.  Fabric store and trim shops are disappearing as designers get priced out of town and large companies outsource to fabric mills in Asia.  The Garment Center is one of the last American manufacturing centers in the United States and both consumers and professional should do what we can to support it.

As you can probably tell by now (if you’re not avid readers of our site, which you should be) is that we have a passion for the Garment Center!  All things related to this unique, historical, creative, and productive corner of NYC peak our interest.  And we especially love educating you fashionistas who do not work in the biz to take a second, look into your closets, and think about how your clothes came to be.  While there is a ton of press on high-fashion, celeb fashion, fashion magazines, Fashion Week, the actual apparel business often gets overlooked.  For those of you not in NYC, on your next visit besides hitting up 5th Ave and Soho for your shopping fix, you may want to just pass through our neck of the woods.  At first glance, it may not seem the most fashionable of neighborhoods, but if you look up at the skyscrapers you will now know that inside are the people creating fashion long before it ever hits the stores. Each company is full of hundreds of people slaving away to make you look good. So next time you go into your closet and throw on that piece that makes you smile, know that we made it happen, you’re welcome!

Article taken from 39thandbroadway.com
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