You don’t have to work in fashion to recognize when Fashion Week comes to New York. Suddenly cabs are harder to come by, there’s a velvet rope outside of every event venue, and the girl sitting next to you on your morning subway commute may very well be a runway model. But what many don’t realize is the influx of capital that this 8 day festival of fashion means to the city. Between the costs of production for the shows themselves, and the business brought by visitors to restaurants, hotels, salons and the even the transportation system – the whole ordeal is reported to bring in $770 and $850 million each season.
The economic benefits of New York Fashion Week to the city are clear. Recently, Mayor Bill de Blasio decided to take it one step further by encouraging designers to design, produce and manufacture locally as well. By doing so, he hopes to create jobs and drive more spending towards New York City factories and production offices year round. At the launch of New York’s Fall Fashion Week last September, de Blasio announced three City initiatives that will support the localization of our fashion industry. The NYC Fashion Production Fund is a $2 million fund that supports emerging designers by providing loans necessary to meet the demands of retail orders. De Blasio also partnered with the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) to create the NYC Capsule Collection, an offshoot of the Fashion Manufacturing Initiative (FMI). Through this $3 million public-private program, selected local manufacturers receive grants and updated technology to maximize efficiency and potential. Last month, the CFDA announced its second annual FMI winners, along with a pledge of $500,000 from The Coach Foundation, and $25,000 from Google. Lastly, Made in NY, a promotional initiative born in 2005 will expand to include fashion companies along with previously recognized media and digital entertainment.
The recent support of the government is welcome among young designers, an increasing number of which are choosing to manufacture locally. The main reason being quality control; “I am very picky about my items, so being developed locally it’s much easier to be hands on” says Daniel Silverstain, a recent addition to the CFDA who showed at NYFW for the first time last season. “It’s also great to feel a part of the New York Community, and to support these families that are in turn supporting you” says Kaelen Haworth, of the label KAELEN is a member of the 2014-2016 CFDA incubator program – a two year development program that provides low-cost design studio space and business mentoring to NYC designers. Through this program, KAELEN is able to keep production local, and their design studio and factory are now just across the street from one another. “It scares me to think of sending something away, not knowing what the conditions are like… I like to know these people, I need to know what’s going on” says Kaelen.
Local production certainly seems to make sense for labels producing small batches of orders for boutiques and specialty stores, but what about small brands with a wider distribution? Designer Hunter Bell has experience selling to retail behemoth’s like Saks Fifth Ave and Nordstrom, in addition to several online outlets and dozens of smaller shops. Bell shares a factory with Rag & Bone, Mara Hoffman, MAYLE and Nanette Lapore, and claims that she actually ran into more issues working with factories oversees than since she moved everything to New York. Her main complaint is that “there are not enough factories or resources for bulk production in NYC.” This is exactly what the FMI hopes to change. By upgrading the machinery and manpower of local production centers, Steven Kolb, CEO of the CFDA aims to increase output, thus “allowing [manufacturers] to take on new clients/designers. This ultimately allows for competitive pricing in the industry.”
With the drive toward locality and social responsibility in all industries from food to retail goods, it’s only natural that people are demanding more transparency from fashion as well. By avoiding oversees production brands not only support the City’s economy, but they also avoid cross continental shipping, which dramatically reduces their carbon footprint. However, with programs like FMI still in their infancy, manufacturing in New York City is still inevitably more expensive than outsourcing to mega factories in China, Bangladesh or Vietnam. Despite the economic challenges, most designers agree that they would rather pay for the quality and peace of mind that local production brings. Sylvie Millstein, the designer behind the budding womenswear label, Hellessy, says that “having immediate proximity to resources is priceless for a small label like [Hellessy].” The challenge is getting consumers to see the value. Millstein believes that her clients must “understand the quality to cost correlation that you get from a garment made in New York.” This belief is what fuels the aforementioned Made in NY program, which promotes local brands in an effort to raise consciousness and encourage consumer support. The hope is that by educating consumers on the benefits of local production, the demand for local craftsmanship increases, even if it means paying a little more.
The impact of these new initiatives on local industry continues to evolve, but as Kolb stated, “all three of these efforts are strengthening the infrastructure on local production and creating awareness on what is possible.” And as we all know, awareness is the birthplace of change.