The New York mayoral election is less than a week away, and it'll be a big one for the city's residents. After three terms under Michael Bloomberg, a new administration will be quite an adjustment, if not a major change. And while crime, stop-and-frisk, education, and the current administration's nemeses--sugary beverages--are issues of frequent discussion (and contentious, snark-filled mayoral debates), there's another topic affecting the local economy and industry that's worth discussing: the future of New York City's fashion industry.
According to the 2010 Fashion.NYC.2020 study commissioned by Bloomberg and the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), New York City is home to more than 900 fashion companies. Fashion manufacturing makes up 31% of all manufacturing jobs in the city, and the fashion industry provides jobs for more than 180,000 people. The local retail market generates over $15 billion a year. And don't forget about the biannual Fashion Weeks, which bring in over 200,000 influential attendees and, more importantly, $865 million each year to New York City.
In short, we’re important. And the issues that the fashion industry faces--keeping manufacturing in New York, steadily increasing real estate development, high rents, providing jobs and attracting and nurturing talent--should be a major consideration for the new mayor.
If you couldn't tell by his wardrobe full of power suits and colorful knits, it's important to note that Bloomberg has been a big supporter of the city's fashion industry. Under his administration, he worked with the CFDA to create the NYC Fashion Incubator program, which has nurtured designers from Prabal Gurung to Timo Weiland. He also tapped the New York City Economic Development Corp. to announce a series of six initiatives to grow fashion industry in New York as part of Fashion.NYC.2020, including Fashion Draft NYC, a talent management-track recruitment program for college seniors at some of the top fashion companies in the city, and Design Entrepreneurs NYC, a comprehensive "boot camp" for emerging fashion designers.
In September 2013, Bloomberg brought together the CFDA and the NYCEDC to launch the Fashion Manufacturing Initiative, an effort to attract funding and grants for companies and manufacturers to obtain infrastructure and equipment upgrades, plus job training.
What's more, Bloomberg has always been vocal on his pro-immigration stance, especially when it comes to bringing in diverse workforce skills and talent to stimulate economic growth. Oh, and he's really good friends with four-term (beating Bloomie by one) CFDA president Diane von Furstenberg.
After 12 years under Bloomberg, players in the New York fashion industry are keeping a careful watch on what's going to happen Tuesday, Nov. 5. And while there are 15 candidates running for mayor (oh, hello again, the Rent is Too Damn High, guy), it’s pretty much down to two contenders. Will it be Democrat and New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, or Republican former MTA chairman (and deputy mayor under Rudy Guiliani) Joe Lhota? How will they impact the local and very vital fashion industry? And with everything going on, have they even thought about it?
Joe Lhota pledged his support for the local industry to Fashionista via email. "As we work to diversify our city’s economy, we have to ensure that New York City is the best place in the world to start a business," he writes. "New York City is one of the world’s top fashion capitals and this industry must be an important piece of that equation."
As the Republican (but moderate Republican, as he likes to remind voters) candidate, Lhota is running on a platform to grow the city's economy by providing and creating jobs, helping small businesses, and attracting more tech and manufacturing jobs to the city.
As for continuing Bloomberg's legacy, Lhota will continue to make Fashion.NYC.2020 a "top priority" as it "exemplifies the sort of public-private partnerships that are critical to growing and diversifying our economy," he writes.
He's also big on tax incentives that are meant to help accelerate small businesses. "As mayor, I’ll create new tax incentives to keep growing businesses from leaving New York City, while lowering startup costs through affordable new incubator space and reforms to regulations and fee structures," he writes, citing the CFDA Incubator as an example of "how the incubator model can be successful as an engine for industry growth." He adds, "Incubators will be a major component of job creation in my administration, as these spaces help small businesses develop synergies while also keeping costs down. I would support the creation of new incubators in every borough, while also forging creative public-private partnerships and tax abatements that will help us create the next generation of manufacturers.”
Frontrunner candidate Bill de Blasio's office was a bit more general in his support statement to Fashionista: "Bill de Blasio is firmly committed to help the fashion industry grow and thrive in New York, and expand opportunities available in this industry to more New Yorkers."
In terms of keeping the official mayoral support of the CFDA Fashion Incubator, Fashion.NYC.2020, etc. alive, "Bill de Blasio would keep expanding Bloomberg programs designed to help the fashion industry that have proven successful."
The CFDA and NYCEDC are playing it safe during this pre-election lead up, both declining to comment on current or incoming administrations’ plans.
However, NYCEDC executive vice president Eric Gertler did want to pledge his organization's support for and commitment to the fashion industry, no matter who gets elected. “NYCEDC’s initiatives to support the local fashion industry are designed to ensure that New York City remains the fashion capital of the world," he writes. "Our projects, such as the Fashion Manufacturing Initiative, NYC Fashion Fellows, Design Entrepreneurs NYC, and many more, help retail and fashion businesses innovate to promote success both now and in the future.”
Another big issue for fashion companies—and really everyone living in New York City—is real estate. In order to stay in business, small retailers and local factories must face the constantly--and rapidly--increasing rents. Plus, there’s always the threat of new housing or office space developments moving into the Garment Center and pushing out existing businesses.
Under Bloomberg's administration, real estate boomed, largely due to real estate tax incentives. According to Newyork.com, 40,000 new buildings were built and 40% of the city rezoned under his tenure. How the next administration takes real estate development even further is of concern to the factories in the Garment Center and boutiques owned by designers or small biz owners all over the city.
Di Blasio’s office writes that small businesses are the "ultimate grassroots job creation engine" and also "incredibly important to the character and strength of our neighborhoods." If elected mayor, he promises to “end policies that hurt mom and pop stores like the constant and arbitrary fines the city government has levied, and explore the use of zoning laws and tax policy over time to support family-owned businesses.”
Lhota acknowledges the issue, too. “New York City real estate is expensive, especially for new businesses and startups," he writes. "One recent study found that we have the highest business rents in the nation. This is part of what makes incubators and co-working spaces so important, giving small businesses a flexible, affordable working headquarters.”
In terms of keeping manufacturing local, de Blasio's office offered support, but through the "tightening of zoning restrictions in the City’s Industrial Business Zones, and the loosening of other zoning restrictions to meet the demand for live-work spaces." While tightening zone restrictions would limit certain real estate development in specific areas, we should point out that there are 19 International Business Zones in New York City (including the Brooklyn Navy Yard and parts of Williamsburg), but the Garment Center is not one of them. On the other side of the campaign, Lhota's responses didn't specifically address local fashion manufacturing.
So, we've heard their arguments. But who will the fashion industry vote for?
New York-based designer Nanette Lepore, who is very involved in keeping fashion manufacturing in New York, especially through her involvement with Save the Garment Center, says her main concern is keeping the area alive and viable, so losing local factories to high rents is top of mind.
"I hope that we'll stop with this attitude that it's all about change and we want to throw out these great parts about New York," she tells Fashionista. She and Save the Garment Center are worried about losing local factories and businesses to skyrocketing rents, in exchange for high-rise office buildings and luxury condos. She stresses "preservation" of the local industry.
Another concern is the proliferation of tech companies in the Midtown-area. “I’m worried a little bit they'll open too much to the tech industry's need for space and we'll get crowded out," says Lepore.
Lepore has already made up her mind on whose name she'll mark on her ballot come Nov. 5. "De Blasio is on that page," Lepore says. "He appreciates New York and all its quirks and creativity and all the industries that grew organically."
De Blasio also has one up on Lhota when it comes to the New York local manufacturing community--he’s actually stopped by for a visit. The current Public Advocate, along with Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, toured the Save the Garment Center this past spring.
"He met with us on an informational basis," Erica Wolf, executive director of Save the Garment Center, tells Fashionista. "He had heard about the issues and wanted to learn more. He visited the Nanette Lepore design studio, showroom and offices to gain the background of fashion because the product, fashion and flair is global. But until recently not many people talked about how those products came to life [in New York City]. He tried to understand the history behind the factories, the price for real estate, leases, for business. The important thing for the politicians to know—there are things still things made in New York City."
"De Blasio has inquired about the issues and we haven’t heard from Joe Lhota," Wolf continues. "But in fairness, we haven’t reached out [to Lhota either]. We would love for him to come and learn about the issues, always."
It’s your move, Lhota. Only five days to go.