How to Save “Made in NYC”: Sewing Skill or New Technology?

The video is a recorded panel discussion hosted by the Texworld USA in July 2015 on the topic of apparel “Made in NYC”. Most panelists have years of experiences working in NYC as a fashion designer, including:

  • Eric Johnson, Director, Fashion & Arts Teams Center for Economic Transformation, NYC Economic Development Corporation
  • Erin Kent, Manager of Programs at The Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA)
  • Michelle Feinberg, NY Embroidery Studio
  • (The event was moderated by Arthur Friedman, Senior Editor, Textiles and Trade, WWD)

According to the panelists:

  • “Made in NYC” have a bright future in two niche markets: sample production for fashion designers and high-quality craftsmanship clothing. As one panelist put it “Designer needs to have tangible garment to show to the buyer”. However, there is no mention about “Made in NYC” serving the mass market in the discussion.
  • Two factors are regarded as critical to the survival of “Made in NYC”: training more professions with sewing skills and investing/upgrading equipment and technologies.
  • In support of the development of the local apparel manufacturing sector, several initiatives funded by the city government and private sources have been launched, including NYC Fashion Production Fund (provide financial support to young fashion designers), Fashion Manufacturing Initiative (support purchasing equipment and skill training) and Design Entrepreneurs NYC (equip fashion designers with the skills they need to successfully run a fashion label, including marketing, operations, and financial management).

However, the future of “Made in NYC” is not without major challenges:

  • One panelist lament that “fashion schools do not teach students much on how to make things”. However, another truth is college students today face a high opportunity cost of spending times on practicing sewing skills. This is particularly the case when most fashion jobs available for college graduates in the U.S. are business or merchandising focused. The constant upgrading of technology and manufacturing equipment in the fashion industry further raise the question as to whether learning traditional sewing skills is a worthwhile investment.
  • The brand image of “Made in NYC” overall is still less prestigious than “Made in Italy” and “Made in France” in the eyes of consumers.
  • Fashion designers in NCY heavily rely on imported fabrics (including those imported from Europe) today. Some questions can be asked: what is the meaning of clothing “Made in NYC” in the 21st century global economy? Should NCY promote the development of local textile manufacturing? If so, how to make it happen? Or should fashion designers in NCY support lower tariff rate and removal of trade barriers on imported fabrics?

Background (adapted from the New York City Economic Development Corporation)

New York City’s fashion industry employs 180,000 people, accounting for 6% of the city’s workforce and generating $10.9 billion in total wages, with tax revenues of $2 billion. An estimated 900 fashion companies are headquartered in the city, and in 2012, there were 13,800 fashion establishments here. Home to more than 75 major fashion trade shows plus thousands of showrooms, New York City attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.