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Eyes of the needle

A snapshot of the (thriving? dying?) Garment District.

By Kate Lowenstein

RECOMMENDED: See all of this year's fall fashion content

Fall fashion 2007, NYC economy

Savania Davies-Keiller
Designer, DDC Lab

“I’d hate to say the district is going away, but the truth is, it is. You know why? It’s just such an awful place to go to. It’s very Garmento; there’s nothing inspiring there. There are gems that you walk into and you’re like, Wow, great, wonderful. But as a section of Manhattan, it’s quite a grim place. You have the fashion box with the pin and button, and it’s like, Could we have been a little bit more creative than that? I mean, a pin?”


Fall fashion 2007, NYC economy

Barry Martin Grzesh
Owner of Barry Martin Fashions

“My father started this business in the early ’70s, when leather was very popular. We make jackets, skirts, pants, dresses—everything, really—in leather, shearling, suede and the occasional fabric. We work with high-end labels like Bill Blass, Jill Stuart, Proenza Schouler and Theory. But these days they all want small orders or single samples. In the ’80s you’d get an order of 2,000 pieces from Ralph Lauren, easy. Now if you get 100 you’re lucky. Everything has gone overseas, where production is cheaper.”


Fall fashion 2007, NYC economy

Wenlan Chia
Designer, Twinkle by Wenlan

“Our office is in the center of the Garment District, but I moved production overseas about five years ago. The industry has changed. Mainly the service—I don’t care about price. My signature sweater is made on a flat knitting machine that none of the New York factories have anymore because they can’t get enough business to invest in them. Is the neighborhood dying? Yes.”


Fall fashion 2007, NYC economy

Amy Baristiran
Owner of O & B Fashion Fabrics

“I’ve been selling imported fabrics here for 32 years. Back then the neighborhood was 90 percent Jewish. Now it’s mostly Middle Eastern and Far Eastern. Rents are really high and people don’t sew like they used to. Why should they when you can buy linen pants at Conway for $9.99?”


Fall fashion 2007, NYC economy

Upandra Mondel
Co-owner of Stretch House, Inc.

“I’ve been in the neighborhood for 12 years. Business is up and down—the fabric business always is—but it’s okay; I have no complaints. Most of the people in the neighborhood are still Jewish—not so much the fabric store people as much as the guys selling the ready-made clothes. They don’t trouble me and I don’t trouble them.”


Fall fashion 2007, NYC economy

Lisa Mayock
Designer, Vena Cava

“We’re in the Garment District most of the day, sourcing people to make custom trim and hardware for us, using sample makers and factories. There’s something really nice about being able to go check on things in person—you can walk in and see if things look good, as opposed to just hearing about it over e-mail. Plus, we’re known for our hand-drawn prints, which have a messy quality to them. Overseas, they always think that those are mistakes and fix them.”


Fall fashion 2007, NYC economy

Ellen Rosen
Co-owner with David Chaddick of Rosen & Chaddick Textiles

“It was 1952 when my father and David’s father started the company. David and I have been running it for about 20 years. We had an 8,000-square-foot storefront space on 40th Street until the Times building started to be built, so we lowered our rent by moving to a smaller space on the second floor. It made sense to give up the storefront: We’d stopped seeing that little woman who’d come in for material to sew her beautiful gray wool suit. Those people stopped existing when they phased sewing out of home-ec classes.”


Fall fashion 2007, NYC economy

Janet Huang
Owner of J. Cala Productions

“In the early ’90s, work was everywhere. My biggest client was Betsey Johnson. But the work went, yes, overseas. That’s when I broke my partnership with my cousin and started my own place. It’s small: about 3,500 square feet. But I have more business now than I did before—not just because it’s small, but also because a lot of the smaller designers can’t find a shop to produce their orders. But I have faith in this industry. I know it will grow back again.”


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