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The Fashion Industry Finds a Cool, Creative Alternative to the Garment District

Of course, it's in Brooklyn.
An Industry City courtyard during the long gone days of summer. Photo: Industry City

An Industry City courtyard during the long gone days of summer. Photo: Industry City

Swimwear label Malia Mills, jewelry e-commerce start-up BaubleBar and specialty chain Steven Alan (which also has an in-house line) have all recently moved most or part of their businesses to a far-away land. It's not in the Garment Center, or far west Chelsea, or even Manhattan. They're in Industry City, the six million-square-foot waterfront complex located in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, accessible from the 36th Street stop outside of "The City." Although, this may not be much of a surprise. After all, last January, the outer-borough-curious New York Times bestowed the industrial design superstructure with the lofty, if not slightly hyperbolic title, the "SoHo of Sunset Park." 

Industry City's burgeoning fashion population boasts 25 companies, also including men's lifestyle brand Ball and Buck, womenswear label (and Etsy seller) Lankka, men's swimwear line Retromarine and textile print and pattern designers Creativo Surface Design Studio. Plus, Rag & Bone rents a facility there to build its vintage-y store fixtures, and Alexis Bittar is reportedly relocating his now-Dumbo-based manufacturing arm into a 17,000-square-foot space within the Sunset Park behemoth. (Although, the latter isn't quite ready to formally comment on the situation.)

All this might bring speculation that Industry City could be the new Garment Center, which is facing its own struggles with prohibitive rents and competition from overseas factories. However, the Brooklyn complex is actually more of an innovative extension of the Garment Center and a cool, new option for both established and up-and-coming fashion brands to set up a home base and grow their operations. If you ask the people who are already there, Industry City is a creative utopia of art, design, tech and culinary delights (the food hall is pretty awesome) — there's even a hipster whiskey distillery. While fashion is an integral piece of the creative greater picture, those businesses make up just 6 percent of the overall tenant base, and occupy only 5 percent of the expansive square footage. 

"We’re trying to build a community here that intentionally has a wide diversity of makers and designers, and that cultivates the synergy between them," explained Industry City CEO Andrew Kimball. "From a pure real estate point of view, there’s a real challenge for a lot of the design and fashion community finding affordable space in Manhattan now — particularly in the Garment Center — so we want to be a great alternative, where they can come here and find that eclectic mix of creative tenants."

I'll take the corner office. Photo: Industry City

I'll take the corner office. Photo: Industry City

Rent per square foot in Industry City is in the "mid-teens to mid-$20s" range, compared to the Garment District's average of approximately $70 (per The Real Deal), and there are tax credits and incentives that companies can utilize. 

But there's more to Industry City's appeal than the numbers.  Maybe the Colson's Patisserie macchiatos or Ninja Bubble Teas from the food hall have been laced with Kool-Aid, if you know what I mean, because every single tenant I talked to — from BaubleBar COO Rotimi Akinyemiju to the mother-daughter team at Lankka — is deliriously happy to be there. It was as if everyone got the memo to say — no — gush, the word "inspiring" when describing the facility's 13-foot floor-to-ceiling windows, sun-drenched rooms and clear views of the Hudson River and Manhattan skyline. "It’s very different than your dimly lit, drop-ceilinged, old, dirty office building in Midtown," said Mark Bollman, president and founder of Ball and Buck, whose design, web, marketing and production management teams are based in Industry City. 

"I will say we love it for a thousand reasons," said Malia Mills, who moved her worldwide operations to Industry City from Manhattan over a year ago. "We have lots of space and lots of sunshine, which is a luxury for any business, but in particular, a luxury for a small business like ours that’s growing."

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Ball and Buck CEO Mark Bollman in his very patriotic Industry City design warehouse space. Photo: Ball and Buck

Ball and Buck CEO Mark Bollman in his very patriotic Industry City design warehouse space. Photo: Ball and Buck

The words "community" and "synergy" were also widely-used. An open space plan, complete with Brooklyn bar-esque courtyard spaces and spacious tables surrounded by colorful, playroom-like chairs scattered throughout the common areas, all create an ideal environment for networking and socializing. What's more, management throws regular tenant mixers in the renovated outdoor spaces, offering booze and games, like cornhole and bocce ball, because Brooklyn. Refreshingly, the enthusiastic tenants also are open to, well, talking to each other. "Most of the time [the relationships happen] because we crash into each other in the hallway," Mills said. "We introduce ourselves and say, 'Hey, what do you do, what do you do?'" Last November, Bollman also threw the first American Field event, a Made-in-America pop-up fest for tenants and consumers, complete with a pig roast.

All this co-mingling between fashion and non-fashion types can result in relationships that benefit the operations and bottom lines of all parties involved. For instance: a stationary company is conveniently located downstairs from BaubleBar's distribution center. "We spend thousands of dollars on stationary and packaging every year, and we have to pay for transportation and freight," COO Akinyemiju explained. "But if we have somebody downstairs that we can buy from, we don’t have to wait four to five days lead time. We can just go downstairs or call them, and within a few hours, we have the delivery." 

"I had a good meeting this morning with a company called Shyp; they try to redefine shipping, and online sales is a big part [of our business]," said Retromarine founder Pablo Jaramillo. "Lots of pieces plugging in." (They were introduced to Industry City through their sample maker, who already had an office there.) Mills hired computer refurbishing neighbor Ombligo to take on her company's comprehensive technology needs. "The tech part of our business is very complicated and it changes constantly," she explained. "So to be able to literally run downstairs when there’s an issue has completely changed our business." Industry City's local community outreach and job placement programs also helped the swimwear designer enlist a few summer interns from a neighboring high school.

But, one thing Mills can't do from her sunshine-filled Brooklyn office is quickly drop in on her manufacturers, who used to be five minutes away. All her production is still in the Garment District, which is a 40-minute train ride. "Now we almost have to pretend we’re manufacturing abroad," she said, but admitted the distance has helped streamline her business practices. "Although there already is a solid base of manufacturers in Industry City, Midtown still has the highest concentration of fabric and trim suppliers," agreed Bollman, "making it necessary to make the trip to Manhattan when doing any serious sourcing." (He does, however, appreciate the opportunity to forgo "expensive chopped salads" for "$4.50 lunches at excellent Mexican restaurants" nearby.) 

With 16 buildings covering 30 acres, Industry City does allow for light manufacturing opportunities in-house, which is especially appealing for small, up-and-coming brands. Retromarine's Rabbani and Jaramillo plan on squeezing two desks, a cutting table and 18 production machines into their new 700-square-foot space. The company currently does manufacture abroad in Colombia, but counts on making all of its swim trunks and shirts — roughly 20 percent of its production — in the new office space this year. And if budgets allow Retromarine to transition more production into New York, there's definitely room to grow within Industry City. 

On the flip side, the main reason Akinyemiju was drawn to Industry City — aside from the inspiring views — was the easy trip to BaubleBar's headquarters on 5th Avenue and 27th Street, a quick 35 minute express ride (thereby also proving that the tolerability of a Brooklyn commute is all about individual perception). And, as Kimball points out, there are lots of creative types already live in Brooklyn. When company CEOs and prospective tenants come to that realization, "it's like, 'oh wow, [my employees] can actually walk to work or bike to work.' Why schlep all the way into Manhattan if we don’t need to?" 

To answer your next question, yes, Industry City does offer bike racks. Health and fitness facilities, childcare (!) and a complex-wide intranet are also in the works, so there's that. And, lest we forget: cornhole. A utopia, indeed.

Team bonding, at its best. Photo: Industry City

Team bonding, at its best. Photo: Industry City