Fashion Designers, Factories Fight to Save Manufacturing Jobs in New York

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Lepore said the billion-dollar American fashion industry could be at jeopardy if emerging designers, such as those attending the several of the city's design schools, do not have the resources to create locally.

"Otherwise, the avenue for talent will dry up and we will not be a world leader in fashion," she said.

Yeohlee Teng, a fellow designer, agrees that the district is a "creative hub" that is especially helpful during the frenetic activity leading to Fashion Week.

"During Fashion Week it provides a support system," she said. "You can have samples made rather quickly and control how they're cut and made."

Teng moved her business from across town into the garment center in the 1990s.

"The reason is because I recognized that proximity is certainly efficient. Today, proximity equals sustainability. And as the world knows, time is of the essence," Teng said. "Having your cutters, sewers down the street from you really helps. It really helps in your creative process and it helps you save time."

The Malaysian-born designer said she also believes the country needs a manufacturing sector.

"Everyone is reaching for the financial and tech industries. A diversity in jobs and sectors enriches and protects our economy," she said. "If we lose all our manufauring, we would be a poorer country because it makes us extremely dependent."

Teng is also an advocate to improve the quality of life for the garment center's tenants, manufacturers, landlords, and the good of the city. She said she became a neighborhood case study as the first designer to open a flagship boutique in the district in October 2010.

Teng and Lepore say the majority of their lines are manufactured in New York, but they do have some specialty work manufactured abroad.

However, Lepore said rising labor costs there and extra hassles in the creative process lead to almost no cost benefit in producing her clothing abroad.

"I really don't like working overseas. We do it sometimes when it is necessary for, like, really embellished garments or embroideries but we lose control of the fit. We have so much more control here," Lepore said.

Currently, the city has a zoning law in the garment center that protects manufacturing space in the neighborhood. But there was discussion in recent years to lift the law to make way for other real estate space.

Ferrara said one problem for factory owners is that many are leasing their property, adding to their expenses and possibly hindering them from adding jobs and capital improvements.

To help solve the issue, the association submitted a proposal to the New York City Economic Development Corporation to preserve 1.2 million square feet of manufacturing space in the neighborhood. The association has also pledged $100 million of the $150 million to support the plan.

Jennifer Friedberg, assistant vice president of public affairs for the New York City Economic Development Corporation, said it is continuing to evaluate alternatives for preserving production space and supporting the area's revitalization.

"We are committed to the Garment Center's function as a central place for fashion designers, suppliers, and manufacturers to congregate, recognizing that it is essential to New York City's economy," she said in an email.

Ferrara hopes the city will approve the proposal this year after working with building owners, tenants and other factory owners.

"Everyone is talking about jobs," Ferrara said. "People talk about jobs for designers, publicists, and merchants. Don't forget the economic opportunity for the skilled artisan and craftsman, who has spent their life crafting beautiful clothes. Growth only happens if it's at all levels of economic opportunity."

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