Timed to Fashion Week, The New York Times lifted the catwalk for a look underneath the who-are-you-wearing business — specifically, what New York City has been doing to make locally sourced — or, at least, locally sewn — clothing an industry where more residents can earn a living.
Nearly 23,000 residents over the age of 16 were employed making “apparel, accessories and finished textile products in 2015,” the Times reports, which is a fraction of the “peak of 323,669 workers in 1950, and less than half of the 59,049 workers in 2000, according to an analysis of census data by Queens College.”
Answering the decline of manufacturing in Manhattan’s Garment District (where clothing work has never been wholly equitable, to be sure), the city launched several initiatives in recent years.
Central to the effort is a partnership between the city and the Council of Fashion Designers of America called the Fashion Manufacturing Initiative. Since launching four years ago, the program has awarded $1.8 million in grants to 19 companies to pay for the likes of 3D printers and other technologies that cut costs and maximize output. It was “designed to support local fashion manufacturing and promote inclusive economic growth,” according to its website.
Now, the city is expanding its “Made in New York” marketing campaign, started last fall, by bringing attention to designers who “are passionate about sustainability, ethics, and supporting the local economy.”
As the Times reports, the city’s also behind the $115 million renovation of the vast Brooklyn Army Terminal, a former military supply base, which will boost available manufacturing space. That building, along with the Brooklyn Navy Yard, are being redeveloped with the help of a $64 million Industrial Developer Fund, which the city assembled with the goal of protecting its industrial land, and modernizing it for current manufacturing needs, as Oscar Perry Abello reported for Next City in December.
“Entry-level manufacturing jobs pay better than entry-level retail jobs, and offer more opportunities for advancement,” he wrote, adding that manufacturing tends to be an entry point to the middle class, particularly for immigrants.
Alicia Glen, NYC deputy mayor of housing and economic development, told the Times, “Everybody thinks of fashion as all glitz, but this is a homegrown industry with everyday New Yorkers working behind the scenes. Fashion manufacturing puts food on the table for tens of thousands of families. And it needs room to grow.”
Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian.