Pratt Center Project

Urban Manufacturing

Keeping Jobs in Fashion

Protecting Manhattan's Garment Center and a Thriving Fashion Industry in NYC

In early 2017, the City announced its intent to lift the zoning protections in Manhattan's Special Garment Center District between West 35th and West 40th Streets in Manhattan, and provide incentives for apparel companies to move to Sunset Park, Brooklyn. For decades, the Garment Center’s unique combination of designers, manufacturers, suppliers, design schools, theatre costume companies and other highly specialized functions has created an extraordinarily vibrant eco-system that both inspires and produces fashion. New York’s fashion industry, which employs almost 180,000 people, is big enough to sustain a Manhattan and a Brooklyn hub, but it requires engaging all the industry’s stakeholders to develop a comprehensive set of plans to both strengthen Manhattan as the anchor and nurture a new Brooklyn cluster.  

The Special Garment Center District was created in 1987 to protect the dense, organic cluster of apparel jobs and businesses in the wake of redevelopment in nearby Times Square. The zoning requires that a building owner preserve space for fashion equal to whatever he converts other space to office uses.  Despite lax enforcement by the City, the Garment Center remains a critical hub for fashion design and protection—including over 900 factories and suppliers providing between 5,000 and 7,000 production jobs. Despite lax enforcement by the City, it remains a critical hub for fashion design and protection—including over 900 factories and suppliers providing between 5,000 and 7,000 production jobs today.

The density of apparel firms creates a natural incubator where designer entrepreneurs can bring their ideas, select fabrics, have patterns marked and graded, and get their fabrics cut and sewn. Apparel companies across the city also rely on the Garment Center as a central location for quality services and materials. Pratt Center's Future of Fashion (2012) study, estimated that one third of the graduates of FIT, Parson and Pratt intend to launch their own labels and use the Garment Center both to learn their craft and to go into commercial production.

The City’s latest plan will remove the apparel protections to encourage development of office space for other design oriented businesses and encourage fashion production to move to Sunset Park, where the City is investing $136 million to renovate a building for apparel. However, the zoning change in the Garment Center will happen several years before this new space will be available. In addition, it spreads out the industry, now concentrated in a 5-block corridor to stretch for more than 27 blocks.However, the zoning change in the Garment Center will happen several years before this space will be available. Industry leaders and elected officials have expressed serious concerns [Coverage: NY Daily News, NY Times, City Limits, dnainfo] about the timing, process and feasibility of the City's plan and the damage the loss of the Garment Center hub would cause to the apparel industry citywide.

For the past several months, Pratt Center has been working closely with a growing coalition that includes Workers United, the Garment Center Supplier Alliance (GCSA), Save the Garment Center, the Design Trust for Public Space, the Municipal Art Society, and elected officials from both Manhattan and Brooklyn to push the City to delay the rezoning and to develop a comprehensive plan to strengthen the industry, including helping companies to buy their space. These efforts culminated in an April 24th gathering of over 200 fashion manufacturers, business owners, workers, and community members for a “Symposium on Urban Manufacturing” organized by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. 

The GCSA has circulated a petition opposing the zoning changes that has garnered nearly 1,500 signatures. We urge you to sign the petition and support efforts to build a stronger citywide industry and to keep jobs in fashion.