Garment District fights rezoning

Garment District Map

For a quarter-century, New York’s Gar­ment Dis­trict has enjoyed its own tai­lored zon­ing code. The code restricts land­lords from con­vert­ing manufacturer-rented build­ings into offices fetch­ing higher rents, and essen­tially keeps the indus­try alive in its cur­rent con­fig­u­ra­tion. Com­prised of whole­salers, man­u­fac­tur­ers, tai­lors, and design­ers both local and inter­na­tional, the Gar­ment Dis­trict has long been the core of the New York fash­ion scene, which is a dom­i­nant part of the global fash­ion industry.

In a more pros­per­ous time, the Gar­ment Dis­trict pro­duced cloth­ing for most of the coun­try, and with that, pro­vided an equally sub­stan­tial num­ber of jobs. Immi­grants and self-starters alike found oppor­tu­nity in the crowded side streets south of Time Square that amounted to a buzzing net­work of shops and factories.

Today, the story is largely the same. Fed by three major design schools, it is con­sid­ered the Sil­i­con Val­ley of the fash­ion world. How­ever, cheaper wages abroad in places like China and Latin Amer­ica have lured many man­u­fac­tur­ers overseas–a move not uncom­mon in any man­u­fac­tur­ing, but one that now threat­ens the New York fash­ion scene as devel­op­ers look to replace vacan­cies with offices.

The Bloomberg Admin­is­tra­tion is cur­rently review­ing a plan to adjust the district’s zon­ing code to enable fur­ther commercial-zoned devel­op­ment. Since the last change enacted in 1987, land­lords have been required to keep a 1:1 ratio of garment-related indus­try and other busi­ness in their build­ings. Now, faced with eco­nomic pres­sures, the Bloomberg Admin­is­tra­tion has pro­posed a new 1:6 ratio: one part man­u­fac­tur­ing to six parts busi­ness. This would decrease fashion-related work space by some 7 mil­lion square feet.Indus­try work­ers argue that the cur­rent allot­ted area is still nec­es­sary to meet needs for show­rooms, stor­age, and man­u­fac­tur­ing. Although the num­ber is decreas­ing, there are still approx­i­mately seven thou­sand garment-related jobs in the dis­trict, many employ­ing recent immi­grants. The Design Trust for Pub­lic Space, a New York City-based think tank, has com­piled argu­ments for pre­serv­ing the dis­trict from the pres­sures of New York real estate at madein​mid​town​.org.

They protest that on a national level, the Gar­ment Dis­trict rep­re­sents one of the last remain­ing enclaves of U.S. man­u­fac­tur­ing for con­sumer goods. This local­ized econ­omy has been declared by many as a valu­able, dis­tinc­tive piece of the city, and that by out­sourc­ing man­u­fac­tur­ing, it will take away the prox­im­ity fac­tor that makes the Gar­ment Dis­trict work. Not only can this cut pro­duc­tion time, but as fuel prices soar, ship­ping costs off­set the advan­tage of cheap, over­seas labor. The clus­ter­ing of these busi­nesses cre­ates a unique envi­ron­ment of com­pe­ti­tion and efficiency.

The Design Trust for Pub­lic Space’s report quoted New York-based designer Yeohlee Teng, who main­tains that “You’re talk­ing about an ecosys­tem and an inter­de­pen­dency. It’s like a coral reef: you don’t know how the reef will sur­vive and what it will do if cer­tain ele­ments are removed.”

(Image: Made in Midtown)