When it comes to support for emerging fashion designers, New York and London appear to have the most infrastructure in place, but those infrastructures don't typically overlap: London has its organizations — most visibly the British Fashion Council and Fashion East — and New York has the CFDA and Vfiles. However, one UK-based online platform has taken a borderless approach to promoting young talent, despite recently attaching itself to the very localized, government-supported Made in NY initiative.
This summer, Not Just a Label (NJAL), a six-year-old digital platform and marketplace for more than 20,000 emerging designers from around the world, applied for and won an endowment from the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), despite not being a New York company. An arm of Mayor Bill de Blasio's office, the NYCEDC launched the Made in NY initiative last year to encourage the continued production of apparel and accessories in New York City, thereby creating jobs, boosting New York's economy, etc.
The funding was specifically allotted for the creation of a pop-up concept for emerging designers in New York City. That pop-up opens Friday in a bright but spare retail space located inside the Waldorf Astoria hotel (though pedestrians can see and access it from Park Avenue). One hundred designers provided the shop's entirely made-in-New-York inventory (so much that it will be rotating merchandise daily), from fairly recognizable names like Timo Weiland and Thaddeus O'Neil to much younger designers who only graduated from design school this year. They did so on a consignment basis (though they were only asked to submit existing inventory), but will receive 100 percent of profits. (On Notjustalabel.com, designers receive 70 percent of profits, but ship directly from their own studios, so risk for the site is low.) The space is equipped with plenty of educational language about Made in NY, and will also host a series of panel discussions on topics like Made in NY's future, local manufacturing innovation and fashion education.
NJAL's experience erecting such pop-ups all over the world likely gave it an edge over the competition, according to founder and CEO Stefan Siegel. Most recently, it holed up for three days in Dubai's Design District and it's also staged IRL events in Berlin, Venice and LA. As for organizing a New York-centric event as a foreign entity, he had this to say: "We're not better than anything in New York, but perhaps we're able to bring a global vision and we’re also able to bring all these partners together." The CFDA was also involved, and put out a call to its designers to participate in the pop-up, in addition to NJAL putting out a call to its own; local design schools like FIT and Parsons were also notified. "Perhaps it takes an outside element to be the mediator... we bring the shell and you guys fill it."
That this shop, which will be open from Dec. 4 to 13, even came to be is promising given concerns that de Blasio's initiative was all talk and little action. But the question remains: Will it be a real boon to New York's diminishing status as an apparel manufacturing hub? Citing the Waldorf Astoria's 1,413 rooms, 450 daily check-ins and 15,000 daily passersby (an estimate), Siegel thinks the unexpectedly mainstream and touristy location will be ideal for foot traffic — important not only for sales but also awareness of the cause. As you may have heard, it's also holiday shopping season. "That's a tourist who needs to know about Made in NY and emerging designers," he explains. "I think we need to go where the customers are and make peace with the mass market. Designers can't be arrogant and say, 'I create cool clothes but only for my friends and family.' This is the exposure the city needs."
The pop-up follows de Blasio's decision to triple spending on Made in NY, which has resulted in a number of initiatives this year, including the Barneys NY x CFDA: Made in New York Collection and a Made in NY ad campaign that saw local designers' goods on billboards throughout the city. It's also given purchase order financing to emerging designers at below-market rates and grants to local production facilities.
While it's hard to say whether these can be considered long-term solutions, they are encouraging moves that can help keep New York apparel manufacturing in operation for now.
The Not Just a Label | Made in NY store will be open daily from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. from Friday, Dec. 4 to Sunday, Dec. 13.