The bustling neighbourhood of the famous NYC Garment District, also known as the Fashion District or Fashion Centre, is one of the most iconic fashion centres in the world. Known for its veritable collection of a wide range of fashion items, it has been a centre of attention for fashionistas for as long as anyone can remember.
Since its inception in 1919, it has been the living centre of fashion, nuclei of fashion designers. But beneath all the humdrum of fashion lies a rich history that is quite fascinating. Fashion was not the original reason for the place’s fame and attraction. In fact, the area was the most infamous neighbourhood in New York, because of prostitution and the illegal sex trade between 1870 to 1900. It is because of this, the place used to be called ‘Tenderloin’ and the ‘Devil’s Arcade’. Bootlegging, betting and racketeering were other common trades in the area.
The birth of the Garment District was partly incidental. It was one of the historical incidents that has much to do with shaping the politics and economics of New York City. The Devil’s Arcade became The Garment District when hundreds of immigrant garment workers were isolated in this area by the wealthy Fifth Avenue Association. The objective was to get rid of the ‘unpleasant by-products, namely its immigrant workers’.
The workers living, and working, in the area gradually assembled into unions and became the architects of a unique district, quite unlike anyone has ever seen before. The invention of the sewing machine has aided the development of the district. Most of the workers were Eastern European Jews who brought in many skills in association with manufacturing, commerce, and textile production. Following the growth of the activities, an industrial landscape was inevitable. By 1910 we had forty-six percent of the industrial labour force in the city working in the Garment District.
Laws and regulations around the district evolved following many events. By 1926 it became one of the fastest-growing industries in the city. However, It wasn’t until the second world war, the district was open to various fashion influences from all around the world. Concerns related to the post-war recession drove Mayor LaGuardia, the largest employer in the district, to create the New York Dress Institute that aimed to promote the city as the premier site for fashion design and to accelerate production and sales. It was during the same time (1944) when the Fashion Institute of Technology and Design was created.
In the past several decades, the Garment Industry withstood many storms in the form of reformations and competitions. But no amount of blow could rob it of its charm. Although it hasn’t been immune from the pandemic that hit hard across the globe. The manufacturers and suppliers had to rethink their business models and supply chain management to survive the jerk. One of the rising trends post-pandemic is a steady rise in sustainable approaches. Ferrara Manufacturing saw an opportunity to produce protective garments during the crisis, and to date, the company has sold almost 3 million medical isolation gowns, masks, and other items to hospitals, healthcare facilities, and businesses in NYC and across the United States. HD Fashion followed the same path after facing a 60-75% decline in their mainline production. Some others, like Michelle Feinberg Founder, of NY Embroidery Studio, feel that the loss incurred by so many can be overcome with new investments and collaborations.
With people opting for sustainable products, the Garment District is rethinking fashion and where the customers stand today. Attempts to minimize waste and resort to ethical inputs are some of the basic criteria the manufacturers are working upon. One of the ways to execute the former would be to follow an on-demand manufacturing model. Besides, strong and united collaboration and cooperation between the manufacturers can go to great lengths to recover from the pandemic crisis. The Garment district forms the very heart of New York City, and this can be the shared sentiment the manufacturers can harness, to build a strong future for the NY Garment District.