The controversy over Ralph Lauren's Chinese-produced Team USA uniforms has raised a bigger question in the fashion community: Is making affordable clothing in America a feasible option for any designer? That was the hot issue for some of the designers and fashion personalities who attended the Project Runway 10th Anniversary Party held in Chelsea last night--and while most agreed that the Team USA uni production ideally should've happened domestically, the empathetic laments about the cost (and feasibility) of producing locally proved to be a common thread.
Alice + Olivia designer Stacey Bendet touched on Lauren (whom she called "pretty friggin' awesome") being unfairly singled out for this "misshap": "I think it's really hard to make things in the US. A lot of companies have moved all of their production overseas." Project Runway All Stars finalist Kenley Collins shared a similar sentiment, saying matter-of-factly that if she produced all of her designs domestically, she "would make no money. I wouldn't be able to afford to get [all of my work] custom printed at a mill somewhere, and then get it cut and then sewn at a factory here--so I get it made in China."
Nanette Lepore, one of the first designers to publicly address the Olympics scandal, and who's been fighting to revive New York's fledgling Garment District for the last five years, sees it as a sort of turning point for her cause. "I think its a huge deal, and I'm happy that there was a public outcry," she told us. "We've been doing rallies and working towards raising awareness that we have these factories here in New York, and we need [to create] work."
But will raising awareness somehow also raise what the American design industry clearly needs to become self-sustaining: Some serious funding and initiatives to bring production back to the States? The fact that the Garment District (including, of course, its factories) is located in one of the highest priced real estate markets in the world certainly doesn't help the case for American production. It's hard enough to afford a 700-sq-foot apartment in New York City, let alone an entire factory and the workers needed to run it. Though Mayor Bloomberg's Fashion NYC 2020 initiative involved a proposed a tax reform earlier this year as a partial solution to rising costs, we've yet to see a change. So who should be shelling out?
According to Fern Mallis, it's the very people (particularly politicians) who are outraged. "If the government really wants to control [where the USA uniforms are made], then pay for the uniforms. It's crazy--they're not helping the American fashion industry with exports and textiles and mills and the Garment Center."