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What will they do for me?
That’s the question on the mind of the $55 billion fashion industry as New Yorkers head to the polls for Tuesday’s mayoral primary to pick the candidates for the race to succeed Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
During his three-term reign, Bloomberg has been a familiar face with the fashion crowd, cutting the ribbon for New York Fashion Week, making cameos at red-carpet industry events and most notably launching Fashion.NYC.2020 to sustain and further grow New York’s fashion industry. That 10-year plan has established a manufacturing incentive, as well as Fashion Draft NYC and Design Entrepreneurs NYC, both of which are geared to cultivating the next generation of talent.
While none of the 11 candidates — seven Democrat, three Republican and one independent — have exactly canvassed the Garment Center hustling for votes, they would be remiss to not acknowledge its fiscal force. As one of New York City’s leading industries, the fashion sector employs 173,000 people, accounting for nearly 6 percent of the city’s workforce. It also generates nearly $10 billion in annual wages with tax revenues of $2 billion. On top of that, more than 500,000 visitors come each year to check out apparel trade shows, showrooms and stores.
Bloomberg set up Fashion.NYC.2020 to try and position the city as a hub of innovation for emerging designers, as well as retailers and executives. Whether that actually flies will no doubt depend on his successor. Some have criticized the mayor for not rezoning the waning Garment District, which once employed hundreds of thousands of workers and produced most of the clothing in the U.S.
In the wake of decades of increased offshore production, New York’s fashion industry is now as much about marketing as it once was about manufacturing. And as more and more Americans are inclined to shop online, designers and brands are dealing with more challenges than ever to try to tap into their share of the $350 billion fashion business in the U.S.
With that in mind, WWD approached all of the candidates to find out how they would stimulate growth in New York City’s fashion and retail industries.
All except two candidates responded. Bill Thompson’s schedule was “too jam packed” and an Erick Salgado spokesman agreed but failed to deliver the candidate’s views by press time.
A few of the candidates know the industry firsthand. Both John Liu’s and Sal Albanese’s mothers worked in New York factories for years (in July, The New York Metropolitan Area Joint Board of Workers United/SEIU, which represents 10,000-plus active and retired garment workers, endorsed Liu for mayor), while McDonald worked at McGregor Sportswear and independent candidate Jack Hidary used to punch the clock at his family’s 65-year-old apparel company during high school summers. And John Catsimatidis, a self-made billionaire by way of Gristedes, has been designing neckties for 20-plus years.
Here is what the candidates had to say about what they would do to stimulate the New York fashion and retail industries, ranked by their positions in the latest polls as of Sunday.
Bill de Blasio
De Blasio said he would take the following steps “in order to cultivate the continued growth and vibrancy of the city’s fashion and design sectors, while ensuring the benefits of this economic growth are shared by even more New Yorkers.”
• Ensure NYCxDesign and New York Fashion Week continue to be annual celebrations of New York’s design and fashion communities.
• Expand the Design Excellence Program in New York City’s Department of Design and Construction to other government agencies in order to preclear small design firms for frequent requests for proposal [FRP] tasks and to tap into New York’s design talent working in firms without the institutional capacity to apply for small individual RFPs.
• Encourage collaboration between the city’s stellar design schools in order to pool resources to support fashion incubators, shared space and entrepreneurship training for young designers early in their careers.
• Connect design firms to small businesses and business improvement districts in order to give New York’s small businesses access to New York’s design talent.
• End the ticketing blitz by banning fine quotas on small businesses and creating a tiered classification system. “We need to help small businesses comply with the law instead of milking them as a source of revenue, while ensuring our enforcement resources are targeted toward the most egregious offenses.”
• Create a $100 million revolving loan fund for neighborhood small businesses looking to start or grow.
Thompson, who attended a Save the Garment Center rally during his 2009 mayoral run, declined to participate. His Web site references such business initiatives as:
• Appointing a chief jobs officer who, among other things, would start a program using Match.com-type analytics to connect businesses with unemployed New Yorkers.
• Strengthen workforce training and increase employee preparation education funding to $120 million, which will allow New York City to train up to 150,000 residents.
“One of New York’s premier industries is fashion, employing over 200,000 people in over 800 fashion companies. Not only do we need to maintain this industry and the jobs that come along with it, we need to expand and grow on the successes we have by showcasing local designers through NYCxDesign and supporting New York City-based manufacturing of local design products,” Quinn said.
Other initiatives include:
• “Grow the successful NYCxDesign festival that [Quinn] created this year with the design and fashion community, and which included over 300 individual events, at 180 venues in all five boroughs. NYCxDesign showcases local designers and helps export their products across the country and around the world. It also provides classes to emerging designers in partnership with the Fashion Institute of Technology, Pratt and Parsons, in addition to the City’s Department of Small Business Services.”
• Further invest in the Brooklyn Navy Yard to create more spaces for small design manufacturers. Build on her Small Manufacturing Investment Fund that provides capital to developers to subdivide and modernize outdated manufacturing spaces for smaller, artisanal manufacturing firms like apparel companies.
“The fashion and retail industries are crucial to the stability and growth of our city’s economy. From students to models to designers and to all of the professions they work with, New York City relies on the talents of its creative class to be a global leader,” Weiner said.
“From fighting for copyright protections for designers to ensuring that our companies can bring in the talent they need from all over the world, I was a champion for the fashion industry in Congress, and will continue to be as mayor,” Weiner said. “Often crowded out by larger manufacturers or commercial retailers and facing ever-increasing rents, independent designers face many challenges in being able to do business in New York City. My proposals would protect zoning for light manufacturing and also ensure that small businesses are given opportunities to connect to suppliers, distributors and manufacturers, instead of being subject to fines and fees.”