Auf Wiedersehen Garment District, Hallo Fashion Center

Old New York Neighborhood Gets a Stylist

NEW YORK – Above the kitsch souvenir shops and fast food restaurants of the garment district, fabric stores, fashion and graphic designers and marketing agencies work hidden away from the public eye. Images of women at work on assembly lines moved to China, while sights of clothing racks getting pushed by men down Seventh Avenue shifted to DVDs of 80s movies.

The slow decline in New York City’s manufacturing sector over the last 50 years sped up in the last decade and caused a plunge in available employment. However, commercial real estate became available and like other city neighborhoods, the area began to attract all kinds of companies some that would have changed the character of the neighborhood.

“We were very concerned when new tenants started moving in, that they would jar with the industry that is existing here,” Barbara Randall, executive director of the Fashion Center Business Improvement District, FCBID. “But a lot of the uses that are moving in now are arts uses. And the creative industries work really, really well with the design industry because they are sort of on the same wave length.”

Barbara Randall, Executive Director of the Fashion Center Business Improvement District

Randall said that when she began at the FCBID 10 years ago, around 64 percent of the businesses manufactured clothes. Now, the number hovers around 46 percent, almost a 20 percent decline. Similarly, the yearly employment figures released in July 2007 by the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics show a continued decrease – a drop of 7,200 jobs or a fall of 6.9 percent – in the availability of jobs in the manufacturing sector in New York City.

In contrast, at the same time, the New York City area saw a growth of 14,7000 in its professional and business services industries from July 2006 to July 2007, an increase of 2.6 percent from the previous year.

“What is happening is that the manufacturing has gone overseas, but the business that stayed here, that is so important to New York City and to the image of New York City, is the design business,” said Randall. “The business of fashion is now design, marketing and sales. Whereas the business of fashion 50 years ago was factories, it was production.”

To turn the tide of loss of employment and commercial tenants, the FCBID, created in 1994 to counteract the loss of manufacturers in the area, began to sponsor events geared toward service sector businesses. The businesses that fell within the target area, from 35th Street at the southern edge to 41st Street and from Fifth Avenue to Ninth Avenue, could participate in workshops about economic development and promotional activities. At one such event, Ed Filipowski, co-president of KCD Public Relations, spoke to new designers about the fashion industry.

As he gave advice to the fashionistas in the crowd, Filipowski referenced the global marketplace and how even the public relations industry has had to adapt. He mentioned that editors preferred online press kits and designers needed to have an international public relations strategy. Still, he acknowledged that some American designers wanted to support the domestic manufacturing industry.

“I think there is a strong contingency of American designers that that is very important to,” said Filipowski, whose agency represents Marc Jacobs and Gucci. “Anna Sui is one who I know is a big proponent of having things made here.”

Despite the capriciousness of the fashion industry, the famous Victoria Secret model Heidi Klum in her Fashion District show, Project Runway, filmed at the Parsons School of Design has become famous with the phrase, “in Fashion, one day you are in and the other you are out.” Filipowski would agree that the Garment District’s facelift was inevitable.

“The fashion industry loves to see people succeed and see people mot succeed,” said Filipowski. “Its just the nature of the industry.”

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