Save the Garment Industry – oops!

First, apologies for the absence. Not sure if rabbling was missed but even so.

Parsons Boy is now officially in New York City among hundreds of other kids at Parsons. Wish him luck!

Since PFYG has been mentioning the economy, let us talk a little about the infrastructure upon which the fashion industry is built on. Fashion is not all glitter and fierce and at the end of a very long day, somebody has to make the clothes.

The garment industry in New York City has long been besieged by the ruthless logic of rising rent and zoning laws with its unfortunate location in the midst of prime midtown real estate. Factories in the Far East and in America’s own backyard have become viable alternatives in today’s global landscape of the cross-continental supply chains.

It is not difficult to see why pursuing the lowest unit production cost might be considered myopic or even unsustainable when taken in perspective. New York City’s fashion industry has thrived on the back of the garment district, largely staffed by Jewish and later waves of immigrants in the early part of the 20th century. While it does not produce textiles or quality accoutrements on par with the Italian mills or the French embroidery houses, its proximity and the close relationship between factory and atelier has enabled the industry to mature past infancy in the face of French dominance. A substantial amount of implicit knowledge is then transferred and stored in the garment industry upon which generations of fashion designers may tap on. Indeed, a case can be made that what makes New York City a fashion capital is its unique triumvirate of the garment industry, local designers and close collaboration between design schools and design firms and the powerful (often symbiotic) influence of the fashion press and buyer community.

A pity then that one crucial link has been consistently under threat. The CFDA officially recognises this and has sought to arrest the garment district’s decline. The Save the Garment Center is an ongoing campaign that also seeks to prevent its demise. Parsons Boy notes a certain cynicism (what’s new in fashion?), however, when such luminaries of New York Fashion as Donna Karan and Calvin Klein have the bulk of their clothes produced elsewhere – essentially undermining the raison d’etre of an institution they claim to support.

You might see it as a pretext for protectionism but I believe the goals of free trade and preserving an institution do not have to be mutually exclusive. The reason for its decline is, after all, zoning laws and encroaching rent. Furthermore, there is merit in having a production centre in close proximity. The recent crisis has revealed the shortcomings of a global supply chain and Parsons Boy does not believe a real value might be placed upon the considerable knowledge inherent in the institution.

A similar scenario played out in Singapore a couple of decades ago. In the spirit of progress, the bulk of garment factories in Singapore was closed down and production was shifted abroad. It is interesting to consider the possible effect this might have had on the Singaporean fashion industry. Forced to rely solely on production facilities beyond the immediate reach of local designers, it places them at a remove from the sort of technical proficiency required to ensure sound production.

Something was lost then. It remains to be seen if Singapore’s fashion industry might ever recognise that and, if it does, how it might regain what it lost.

This entry was published on September 16, 2009 at 12:19 am. It’s filed under Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

5 thoughts on “Save the Garment Industry – oops!


    ^ for the fashionable economist in you.

    oh don’t forget to check out jak and jil’s coverage also at

  2. theclicheherself on said:

    hey sean

    i read your article on saythefword. i agree with most of what you said, especially on the advantages of having the manufacturers close to the designers. but i was just wondering, wouldn’t it be simply too expensive to do so in ny? the cost may outweigh whatever benefit we could derive. i could be wrong, but i think manufacturers in china and india are slowly picking up in terms of techniques. granted they are not as good as their ny/paris counterparts, they provide value for money services.

    or is the answer simply this, quality clothes come at a hefty price, cost cutting should not be done when it comes to manufacturing?
    do enlighten me!

    in rags,

    ps: thank you for always making fashion intellectual.

  3. saythefword on said:

    it’s me, jo.

    thanks rueben! (i love watching IHT news!)

    CA: you are quite right — when it comes to mass production for labels like H&M, Zara, MNG, it makes more sense to get everything done in China. i’m trying to avoid the whole comparative advantage discussion here, because my memory of econs lectures is as hazy as it gets right now. it costs much more to have stuff manufactured in the US (compared to China, duh hor), and the costs are in part passed on to the consumers — compare the prices of American Apparel against that of Gap’s.

    dont know enough about the Save the Garment Center to discuss it in depth, though my preliminary guess is that keeping the manufacturing process in the US works only if you have a sufficient consumer base to which you can pass on the increased costs.

  4. I don’t know If I said it already but …This blog rocks! I gotta say, that I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say I’m glad I found your blog. Thanks, 🙂

    A definite great read..Jim Bean

  5. Super-Duper site! I am loving it!! Will come back again – taking your feeds too now, Thanks. 🙂

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