The city is attempting to staunch the wound that has been driving fashion designers and fabric stores out of the Garment District for the last couple of decades.
High rent, as well as the rising cost of labor and manufacturing, has forced many designers from the area and chipped away at the one-mile expanse, between 34th and 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue and Ninth Avenue, that’s a landmark dedicated to U.S. fashion.
To combat that, the New York City Economic Development Corporation and Capital Business Credit recently earmarked the first recipients of a new NYC Fashion Production Fund that was announced shortly after Fashion Week. Its goal is to revitalize the city’s fashion merchandising industry and the Garment District.
The fund incentivizes Garment District designers to manufacture and produce their wares in New York City by awarding them below-market rate loans to raise capital to produce clothes as well as giving them access to mentor figures. The winners were Karolina Zmarlak and Rosie Assoulin.
“We work with everyone within a five-block radius of the Garment District on our pieces,” Zmarlak said. She said the fund had already helped her branch out from Saks Fifth Avenue to Neiman Marcus online and Saks Jandel as well as specialty stores.
The Polish native attended the Fashion Institute and started her own collection five years ago.
“The high level of quality for a collection like ours comes from the fabrics that we get,” Zmarlak said. “We can produce a higher quality and quantity of products here and those we work with appreciate it, too.”
The loan assistance program is part of a wider effort to refuel the industry. “We are committed to helping all 180,000 fashion workers, including designers, tailors, seamstresses and embroiders,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said, during Fashion Week.
Other parts of the initiative includes: the NYC Capsule Collection in partnership with the Council of Fashion Designers of America which supports local designers producing in area factories, while Made in NYC helps designers brand their products and a Fashion Manufacturing Initiative offers small business grants to fashion industry workers.
The fashion industry contributes more than $98 billion annually according to NYCEDC, but some garment district shops say years of shrinking business heaped on top of blows such as Superstorm Sandy and high rents have left them reeling.
“It’s all a domino effect that has brought our spirits down,” said Danny, a wholesaler, from Body Language, on 37th Street.
“The situation is getting worse and the rents are out of control,” said another shop owner who didn’t wish to use his name out of fear of retribution from his landlord.
The NYC Fashion Fund will issue up to $32 million in financing over the next four years.