Most important, however, is the proximity to apparel manufacturers and factories. Designers who are based near their manufacturers have a clear advantage–they can communicate directly with the factory supervisor and check in with product. They also save money on transporting and shipping fees as well as taxes and tariffs (in comparison to overseas manufacturers).
And in that respect, Los Angeles is a clear winner. In fact, over 33% of all US apparel manufacturing jobs are now located in LA or Orange County–more than double the amount in New York. Of that percentage, Metchek tells me, denim is the core. The ability to produce denim in a variety of washes and finishes requires massive machinery, which, in turn, requires massive work spaces. It simply wouldn’t be possible to house them in the cramped city of New York.
Besides rent, the cost of labor in New York is higher too. “New York’s garment workers are unionized which makes the product not competitive,” Metchek says. “The New York product would wind up being a high end product, no matter what you do. Because union rules require living wage for every kind of job. [As a business owner] you couldn’t do machine work [and pay] living wage. You could do minimum wage, but not living wage.” In Los Angeles, the rules are different. There is no union, so manufacturers pay machine workers minimum wage, but, Metchek says that workers who produce more are rewarded with more money. “No garment is made by just one person. It’s team work. So you’re only producing as much as your slowest sewer and if the team produces more then they make more. It’s actually a very democratic process because the team itself weeds out the slow workers.”