NEW YORK—The Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) introduced a $1.5-million grant for fashion manufacturing businesses in New York City. The city provided $1 million, while the design label, Theory, pledged $500,000.
“This program is critically important to the future of our industry, by investing in a NYC manufacturing base where designers and factories can collaborate and innovate together,” Andrew Rosen, CEO of Theory, said in a press release.
The grant can be used toward training staff, upgrading machinery, expanding services and enacting plans for improving fashion companies.
The president of R&C Apparel Corp., Ramdat Harihar, said he would use the grant to increase his labor force. “Now, it’s a challenge getting good workers,” he said. The R&C currently employs 15 to 20 workers.
R&C has operated in the heart of the Garment Center since 1997. Its clientele includes designers like Calvin Klein, Anna Sui, Nanette Lepore, as well as many startup designers like one of Harihar’s favorites Raul Peñaranda.
He said while business has been difficult for the past four years, more customers prefer the “Made in USA” label.
“It’s on the verge of getting better,” he said.
“[Consumers] should be able to support the labor force in the USA and help out their own citizens of America,” he said.
The Fashion Manufacturing Initiative grant is available to any fashion manufacturing business in the five boroughs that have been in business for two consecutive years. The application process will begin on Sept. 16 and the funds will be dispensed in early 2014.
The fashion industry employs 18,000 people in New York City and generates $2 billion in tax revenue annually.
Fashion Forward Initiatives
Only 3 percent of clothing sold in the United States is manufactured in the Garment Center—the 1.1 million square feet of fashion manufacturing space in Midtown Manhattan. It is a startling number compared to the 95 percent that was manufactured in 1960.
Organizations like Save the Garment District have been trying to keep production going at the Garment Center ever since City Hall planned to lift the 1987 zoning law that protected fashion-manufacturing tenants in the Garment Center.
According to Save the Garment District, the Fashion District still has 450 fabric companies and 846 fashion company headquarters. This means New York City has more fashion designers than London, Paris, and Milan combined.
The founder and owner of Jes Wade, Jessica Wade, designs and manufactures her clothing collections at her showroom and atelier in Tribeca. Wade said she would use the grant to purchase new technology like a 3-D scanner that will help her produce patterns digitally.
“Being able to take something that’s original and handcrafted and special from the past and being able to put it with new technology … are to me the future of luxury fashion,” she said. Wade uses lace made in France on a 19th century weaving machine.
She said the intimacy she’s able to have with the product prompted her to manufacture locally. She said producing locally provides for a one-on-one interaction with the customer.
“Manufacturing in New York City is not about mass production. … New York has positioned itself where there’s that kind of specialty.” But her business has met its challenges.
“Pricing is difficult,” she said. Since in the past only clothes like T-shirts and jeans were mass-produced, now any type of clothing is easily available, from office wear to evening dresses.
Although she said that government tends to focus on larger companies, Wade commended the New York City Economic Development Corp. (NYCEDC) for putting out initiatives and programs that support new designers. The Design Entrepreneurs NYC program provides select fashion designers with the support they need to run a successful business in fashion.
“These initiatives … are vital for the future of the industry as a whole,” Wade said. Wade was part of the finalists selected for the design entrepreneurs last year.
“It was amazing to be able to focus on my business and write a business plan and go through all the training that they put into place,” she said.
The program is in turn part of a bigger effort started by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2010 named Fashion.NYC.2020. It examines the challenges and needs of local fashion businesses, providing them with initiatives to keep the industry thriving.