To encourage more New York manufacturing, the CFDA — along with the New York City Economic Development Corporation and businessman Andrew Rosen — is launching a program aimed at promoting, supporting and investing in local factories. It is modeled after the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund, which identifies promising designers and provides them with grants, mentoring and publicity to help grow their businesses. The new program is a kind of Fashion Fund for factories.
This season, fashion has been redefined as cultural touchstone, social commentary, political action and patriotic economics. “Fashion is so mainstream and everyone is so tuned in,” says Marlene Hu Aldaba, owner of District-based Hu Shoes and Hu Wear. “The social issues are more on the surface now than ever.”
The Bangladesh catastrophe had industry watchdogs recalling the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911 that brought attention to sweatshop conditions in the garment trade in the United States. This summer, mass merchants, from Gap to Macy’s, signed onto a pact aimed at improving working conditions, though the agreement is not legally binding.
The vast majority of labels participating in New York Fashion Week — most of which are small, independently owned companies — are not producing hundreds of thousands of units in China, or anywhere else. Still, they do manufacture overseas. And most of them are left simply trusting the manufacturing chain, said Scafidi, who oversees the Fashion Law Institute at Fordham Law School. “They feel like they’re holding their breath and keeping their fingers crossed.”
Designer John Bartlett tested his ability to go “off the grid” — avoiding the giant factories and adhering to a modest carbon footprint — around 2005. The New York designer relocated his production to New Delhi, where he used manually powered machines and steam heat. He relied on locally produced fabrics and artisans who were paid a living wage.
“The production is much slower. The pieces have a hand-wrought feel, which I like, but it may not be as perfect as something coming off a factory floor in China. And it can be more expensive,” Bartlett says. Now, he produces his collection between New York and New Delhi. And he continues to produce a small percentage of it off the grid.
“I don’t designate that on the sales floor, although I probably should,” he says. “I do talk to buyers about it. [Editors] writing about it see it as something exciting and interesting.