Sometimes an industry simply can’t move forward without changing the conversation and embracing more sustainable business models.
I am a Brooklyn-based serial entrepreneur and community art advocate. I'm also a professional apparel and graphic designer with previous experience everywhere from Ralph Lauren to Marc Jacobs. I founded Brooklyn Royalty in 2006 as a growing number of industry veterans grew tired of designing quality merchandise extolling the virtues of New York City, only to have it produced in China. We dedicated ourselves to a vision of completely Made in USA labels utilizing local sourcing in the Garment District and all five boroughs whenever possible. In the last two decades, the U.S. has lost 80 percent of its apparel manufacturing jobs, and post-recession there has been little growth because designers lacked the infrastructure, resources and industry support necessary to make substantial gains in domestic production.
Globalization has placed the fashion industry in a position where it is possible to design clothes in NYC, email the technical specifications to Asia, and then (hopefully) receive quality samples in just two weeks. Outsourcing production used to seem like magic for designers on a budget and thrifty, trend-driven consumers, but what is the actual cost?
There are old factories sitting empty, and industrial space in the Garment District is being rezoned as residential and commercial. There are excellent, hard-working production managers and sewers who now are either working out of their homes, have had to change industries, or are simply unemployed. And there is a generation of talented fashion entrepreneurs who have built loyal followings around their brands' stylistic brilliance and forward-thinking innovation, but have woefully limited options when it comes to making their product available to a larger audience.
Manufacture New York is the solution. Our organization will be the country’s first fashion design and production incubator. Inspired by the best social change accelerators and coworking spaces for creative entrepreneurs, it will allow for local fashion designers to also have the opportunity to conceive, develop and manufacture their own lines right here in the United States. We will assist designers in creating fiscally sustainable and socially conscious lines through the following principles:
Cooperative Sourcing — Collaboration is in; hoarding resources and contacts is out. We are partnering with progressive websites (Maker's Row, Made in NYC, Citizen Made) and progressive organizations (Save the Garment Center, Pratt Design Incubator) to make U.S. fashion sourcing accessible to a new generation through virtual maps of manufacturers, fabric/trim suppliers, printers and more. This will begin leveling the playing field so that independent designers have a real possibility of establishing healthy businesses from the start.
**Sustainable Manufacturing — **Reducing financial and ecological waste in the production process isn’t a cause, its a completely practical way to do business! By reducing transportation costs, eliminating international legal and customs fees and negotiating partnerships with other local sourcing suppliers, we can market NYC-made fashion affordably. We are supporting our community by creating new, fair wage jobs that are stable thanks to the collective ordering power of 60+ independent designers. We will use reclaimed equipment and supplies, and ensure energy efficiency wherever possible — not just because it's ethical, but because it saves us money that we can return to our designers in the form of increased services and support staff.
**Public Awareness Campaigns — **Socially responsible design just makes sense. Designers must take on a greater role in educating their buyers on the real impact of fast fashion and unchecked consumption through public awareness campaigns and increased transparency throughout the full product lifecycle. We encourage fashion lovers to buy local, research brands and be more practical with their money. Every dollar is a vote for something, so why not express support for innovative design and quality workmanship?
The goal of Manufacture New York is to create a centrally located facility in Industry City, Brooklyn that serves as a keystone to a new Brooklyn Garment District. The space will include manufacturing facilities, a fully equipped sampling room, a classroom space (open to the public), private studios for rent, and a state-of-the art computer lab equipped with the industry’s best software for design and production. We will also offer an area for experimentation with eco-friendly fabric washes, dyeing, textile applications and finishes.
The impact of Manufacture New York will be huge. Finally, consumers will have greater options for locally made attire. Independent local fashion designers will have the resources and space available to make their visions a reality. High-demand fashion concepts such as sustainable materials and eco-friendly products will be produced easier and faster than ever before. And we will lead by example, inspiring big corporate brands to move some production back to the US, so they can also witness the long-term positive impact on local communities and their bottom line.
Our fundraising campaign runs through March 31st — join the movement here.
This post first appeared on GOOD on February 27, 2013.