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$51M Plan Promises To Rescue The Garment District’s Namesake Industry


New York City is one of the great fashion capitals of the world, and its Garment District is the eponymous industry's epicenter.

Established in the early 19th century as industrialization merged with the city’s abundant supply of cheap labor and its transportation network, the sector's output increased sixfold in the 1870s. By 1910, the city’s then-largest industry was producing 70% of the nation's women’s clothing and 40% of its menswear. In the early 20th century, as fashion eclipsed function in priority, the Garment District prospered.

New York City’s garment manufacturing industry retains a mere 5% of the total workforce it employed at its 1950 peak, driven to decline by globalization. Foreign countries have long been able to manufacture clothes more cheaply, but now sophisticated supply chain management has made offshore factories more responsive. With outsourcing such an attractive option for clothing companies, the Garment District has experienced decline.

The broader fashion industry employs 5% of NYC’s total workforce, and, according to an New York City Economic Development Corp. industry snapshot, produced $9B in wages and $1.7B in tax revenue for the city in 2010, despite suffering lingering effects from the Great Recession.

A $51.3M capital infusion announced in March promises to reinvigorate the Garment District and five boroughs’ fashion dominance. 

Fashion Center information booth

The new investment package includes state-of-the-art equipment and technology, training programs and relocation assistance for manufacturers. It will provide marketing assistance to stimulate demand for clothes made in NYC.

Rising commercial rents among buildings in the Garment District have put increased pressure on the struggling fashion hub. The old stock of industrial facilities best suited to its needs are being repurposed as prime destinations for retail and offices.

The Garment Worker by Judith Weller (1984)

In March, the Garment District recorded a 52-week pedestrian count of 215 million. People gravitate to the area for its public art installations, assortment of buzzing rooftop venues, innovative new storefronts, architecture with trademark old NYC charm and boutiques with fresh-off-the-runway designer apparel.

These trends piqued the interest of Besen Retail executive director Matthew Mager. His team has a triple net lease opportunity at a five-story, elevator 7,500 SF vacant Garment District townhouse at 13 West 38th St. With 1,900 SF in the basement, it is ideal for a flagship retail store or office tenant synergistic with the district’s ethos.

13 West 18th St. first floor interior

“This is the top center for fashion manufacturing and design in the U.S., and even the world,” Mager said. “People are drawn to the Fashion District because no other place has a comparable density of fashion businesses and talent.”

Garment District factories outfit the models at world-famous Fashion Weeks in September and February, which bring over 230,000 attendees to more than 250 fashion shows to the city each year. They have an estimated $887M economic impact concentrated in the district.

“It’s also at the intersection of many subway and bus lines, providing an array of transportation options for retailers, tourists, travelers, business people and local employees,” Mager said.

13 West 18th St. second floor interior

Today, 30% of the city's garment manufacturers, around 400 companies, call the district home. Some have moved to the second-largest manufacturing nexus in Sunset Park, drawn by the community of makers, long-term lower-rent leases and abundant modern industrial facilities.

With the investment package explicitly encouraging and aiding relocation to this burgeoning Brooklyn bastion, the Garment District may retain only a few high-profile manufacturers as its conversion to retail, office and other uses accelerates.

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