Garment District Needs to Shape Up and Quickly

June 10, 2010 • Fashion


From left: Tim Gunn, Michael Meola, Yeohlee Teng, Madelyn Wils at the panel


On Tuesday night, the Municipal Art Society of New York hosted a panel discussion with urban planners and designer Yeohlee Teng, moderated by Mr. Tim Gunn.

The same question that was posed last year at the Made in Midtown survey made it's way into Tuesday's discussion: "Does the fashion industry really need to garment district?" And according to the panelists, very much so, "yes".

New York's Garment District has been suffering for the past few years. “The zoning was done in 1987 as if it would never change," said Eric Gural, executive managing director of the real-estate service firm Newmark Knight Frank. "It has pitted the real-estate people against the fashion people.

Not to mention the fact that there are many up-and-coming designers who see just see the glamourous side of the industry, not the many years of work and dedication it takes to make it happen. “There is no shortage of people wanting to be the next Marc Jacobs," Teng explained. "I see an influx of new designers, but no one who wants to learn the trade. We need a program of apprenticeship. It takes about ten years to train someone to be a skilled seamstress or cutter.

There is no doubt that reality shows and attempt to paint the business as glamourous and exciting, you can expect a swarm of kids fresh out of design school with just a faint idea of how the business really works. When you hear of situations like the Alexander McQueen label still struggling to turn a profit after years in the business, you wonder what this means up and coming designers.

The panelists did agree that the garment district is needs to be "more identifiable". The influx of commercial chains, such as banks and restaurants, really don't express the creative feel of the area. Design Trust executive director Deborah Marton suggested luring young designers from Brooklyn to downtown Manhattan as well as, staging fashion shows in the streets and moving showrooms to the ground level.  

There is hope for the garment district yet. It is the start of many careers and helped many young designers along the way. Marton noted that Jason Wu was a designer whose entire business began in midtown: “In Paris or Milan, you have to come up through one of the major fashion houses. It’s virtually impossible to start the way [he] started.” Tim Gunn chimed in, “The fact that your report debunks these myths is so useful. So many people say the fashion industry has nothing to do with the garment district, and it’s just not true.”

The garment district is "a research and development hub, and New York City is the fashion start-up capital of the world.” It's struggling and it needs more help than ever. And we can't just give that up without a fight.

-Taneisha Jordan

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