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.

Author: Sheng Lu

Professor @ University of Delaware

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

  1. I have always questioned as a fashion merchandising major why I do not have to take a basic design class as part of my core curriculum. It is an important skill that merchandisers should know so they understand the effort it takes to make garments, this knowledge will allow merchandisers to properly price their products. I think it’s important that NYC designers promote “Made in NYC” clothing. Although it does not have the same prestige as does “Made in France” or Italy, New York is a major fashion capital and their could be a real market for for these garments and I believe that consumers will have a real passion for “Made in NYC” clothing.

  2. In another fashion course that I had this semester, everyone had to analyze a pair of their own jeans. One of the components we had to report was where our jeans were made, and no one in the class had jeans that were made in America. This articles brings up a good point that Americans need to know how to make garments and sew and keep up with up and coming technology. I thought the panelists did a good job or pointing out both the good and bad of items being created in the US. To answer the question of what does it mean “Made in the USA” during this time to me wont truly have meaning until every material and every point of the apparel assembly process is done in the US. I think this would be difficult to accomplish because almost every company participates in outsourcing whether it has to do with the fabric or putting a design on a garment.

  3. I think that clothing “Made in NYC” could have much more meaning in the future than it maybe does today. New York City is a huge fashion epicenter, and people all around the world come to New York Fashion Week to experience all that the city has to offer. I think that seeing a label of being Made in NYC also gives Americans more pride in our products. When shopping, I always look at labels to see where my clothing was made. I rarely ever find that clothing is made here, and I think that if I did see that clothing was made here and that it was made using more sustainable materials, or was made in an ethical factory, I would be willing to pay a higher price for it. I am always excited to see local brands and artists, and I would love to be able to see more clothing being made in NYC. I do understand that there are many challenges that will be faced, but it could be worth it to establish more production centers in New York City.

  4. As an apparel design student, I found this article particularly interesting. Our education at the University of Delaware is split fairly evenly between design (“making things”) and business, with classes from a range of academia sprinkled in. This is vital to creating well-rounded, agile alumni that can serve various roles within the fashion and apparel industry. Made in New York City is not, at least currently, a main concern in the industry, so I do not believe this is something that design programs should focus on. I do find it notable that products made in New York are typically for higher end markets, much like products made in comparable economies such as Western Europe. This is likely due to their capital-intense economies and high costs of labor.

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