As a designer, I am inspired by the global cultural tapestry our planet offers. There are so many beautiful things to draw on as I look to Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and here in the Americas. When I am not traveling, I always feel fortunate to live in New York City, where many of the world's cultures are represented and evident. The world too is allured by the magnificence and unmatched hustle of the city. It is no wonder then, that brands often associate themselves with New York to capture the imagination of the global consumer by equating their products with a New York "state of mind". Despite this popularity, however, there are very few products actually produced or manufactured in town.
When I started my handbag company a few years ago, I found that the convenience and quality offered in New York City's Garment District were unmatched elsewhere in the world. I also became convinced, perhaps somewhat mystically, that making my bags here in the city instilled an air of authenticity within them. Being able to envision, sketch, mockup, sample, and produce everything within 20 minutes of my home is both convenient and affords me great quality control. Even more important to point out is that having all the resources needed to complete the process start to finish, all within a 5 block radius, provides me a luxury that does not exist anywhere else in the world. We are the only fashion capitol that has a proper garment center. This is why so many designers abroad come to NY to start their fashion lines. And while my reasons are selfish, I also do take pride in seeing my production dollars go towards creating jobs here in the city I love.
New York's Garment District is not, however, my own hidden secret! There are plenty of designers who produce goods here and extract the same inspiration as I do from this spectacular metropolis. This was the genesis for the upcoming film documentary, Make It In Manhattan, that my talented friend, film director, James Belzer, and I have been working on. In the film, we sit down with some of fashion's biggest names, and uncover some interesting and glamorous things about New York fashion. Perhaps most surprisingly is how discreetly some renowned design houses are, when it comes to promoting the production roots of some of their products, here in America. The sad reason for this understatement, many designers feel, is that most Americans are unconcerned with the origins of their fashion. This is a view that is contrasted by many Asian and European consumers who seek out New York made products, rightfully equating them with quality and craftsmanship.
I find it ironic that with all the banter about job creation in the press and Congress, consumers remain largely apathetic towards where their consumer goods are produced. I cannot help but equate this modern indifference to our quick mass acceptance of convenient and processed foods that began in the 50's. In both instances consumers ignore the long term damage they inflict upon themselves, to either their respective local economy or health, in exchange for a seemingly "good deal". We seem to have an amazing ability to suspend reality when it comes to consumption, choosing to believe that our purchasing choices have little to do with our own well-being. This phenomenon is by no means limited to America. It is, however, most pronounced here, as we practice the purest form of capitalism. An increase in the consumption of New York made fashion goods would increase and sustain the wide range of jobs that depend on a bustling Garment District.
Of course, I would never want American consumers to boycott foreign-made goods. That would be ridiculous. Many of the best designers produce their collections in other regions of the world. I do know, however, that Americans, like our export partners, should become more conscious of the origins of the fashion they buy. There are so many fantastic designers that produce the highest quality goods right here in New York. Brands such as Yeohlee Teng, Nanette Lepore, Rag & Bone, The Row and, of course, Michelle Vale all produce the bulk of their goods in New York and offer consumers style and quality that stand up to and surpass many of global brands. Other major brands produce portions of their collections here. It is important, however, for consumers to care about this if the New York's Garment District is to survive. As one designer told me once, "If the Garment District goes, it will never come back!"