Steering a New Course For New York’s Apparel Industry

New York City’s garment industry has been woven into the fabric of the city’s economy and provides thousands of jobs for our residents. However, the economic well-being of the garment industry – whose historic home has been in the West 30s and lower West 40s, between Broadway and Ninth Avenue – has seen steady and significant decline in employment for more than four decades.

Even in the Garment District apparel manufacturing employment has declined, according to some reports, by 85 percent, despite the imposition of restrictive zoning provisions in 1987 which were intended to stop this decline in jobs.

It is time to take a fresh look at how we can responsibly protect and preserve the existing apparel jobs in New York and strive to create the right economic conditions that will to enable it to grow.

The restrictive zoning regulations enacted in 1987 requires landlords in the district to reserve at least 50 percent of their manufacturing floor space for apparel. The purpose of that rule was to alleviate rent pressure on garment tenants and preserve jobs.  There is a broad consensus and evidence that the zoning restrictions have failed to stem the loss of garment industry jobs.

We need an approach that can retain existing production, recognizes the changing demographics of the workforce and where they live and outline series of initiatives that preserve jobs and promote the industry’s  growth in New York.

Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and City Council Member Corey Johnson have shown great leadership on this issue by forming a Garment Industry Steering Committee. This committee will meet over the next three months to engage local and industry stakeholders and seek fruitful solutions to the economic issues that the industry faces and that would provide a consensus path to growth and prosperity for garment manufacturing in the city.

REBNY is pleased to be a member of the Garment Industry Steering Committee and we believe it is an excellent way to generate sound ideas and practical and effective solutions. We look forward to meeting with the elected officials and other committee members and sharing our views as part of this important discussion.

The steering committee grew out of a proposal by the New York City Economic Development Corporation which is seeking to accommodate some apparel industry organizations in a more amenable location in Brooklyn. The EDC approach provides additional support for existing Garment District manufacturers who are located in the area with the zoning restrictions.

Under the proposal, these manufacturers would have an option to move into less expensive, state-of-the-art space at the Brooklyn Army Terminal and Bush Terminal in Sunset Park, accompanied by assistance to move, if they choose to.

While the Steering Committee is just beginning this process and still has work to do, we know this effort will outline a constructive and realistic future for the garment industry the property owners, and other stakeholders.

We have attempted unsuccessfully to assist this industry through zoning and land use controls for 30 years. It is time for a better path forward for these businesses that have called New York homes for decades.