Mayor of the Garment District: Using FourSquare to Track Designers



FourSquare, a popular social media application, was used as a tool to track movement of fashion designers within the Garment District. Photo: Catherine Griffin.

Every time Anthony Lilore left his clothing store, RESTORE Clothing, in the Garment District during a two-week period in July, he used his smartphone to religiously check in to FourSquare.

When he walked down the street and crossed a bustling Eighth Avenue to go to Guide Fabric to select cloth for his environmentally friendly active wear line, he told his new location to FourSquare. From there, if he headed north a block to check on production at Carl Nicholas Production, passing glass storefronts and elegant marble structures, he once again pulled out his smartphone to access FourSquare.

Lilore was one of 77 individuals in the fashion industry who participated in an unusual study to determine how designers and industry professionals are using buildings and retail spaces in the Garment District and how often. After tracking the movement of designers within the Garment District, researchers at Columbia University’s Spatial Information Design Lab planned to present data on how the area is utilized to city officials, who have been considering options on re-zoning the district.

“The city wants to re-zone the parts of it that aren’t being used or aren’t important,” said Sarah Williams, director of the Spatial Information Design Lab, who led the project. “There has been an 80 percent decline of business since 1980. Are businesses even being used? I had no way to know.”

With the help of organizations such as Save the Garment Center, Williams recruited a wide range of fashion industry workers throughout the neighborhood to participate in the study.

Lilore, for example, said he would check in anywhere from three to eight times a day.

“Every time I left the office or came back to the office, I checked in at least 90 percent of the time,” he said. “I was so used to walking in some place, doing what I have to do and walking out that sometimes I would get a half block away and realize I didn’t tell anybody where I was.”

Williams wanted to better understand how designers take advantage of the cluster of fashion businesses, manufacturers and suppliers in the Garment District. She wanted to study the agglomeration of fashion businesses — similar to Silicon Valley’s technology cluster — and the direct impact that clustering has on the designers who work within it. Williams said she used FourSquare because the program’s built-in GPS, or global positioning system, made it easy for users to track their location based on pre-programmed location points.

“We were doing other projects at the same time that were using social media to ‘crowd source,’ ” she said, referring to a method of using large collections of people to accomplish a certain task. “It’s more about how we can harness the technology with GPS and smartphones. It was re-purposing a social media for use in urban research.”

Williams and her team are currently analyzing the data. She said she hopes to publish findings early next year.

Williams declined to discuss preliminary findings, but did say that the majority of time designers spent within the Garment District was for manufacturing purposes, not for looking at showrooms or at patterns or samples – surprising considering popular opinion that the Garment District is shrinking due to outsourcing manufacturing to cheaper options overseas.

The study found that designers from within the district were spending 63 percent of their time in manufacturing-related pursuits. Designers from outside the district spent 61 percent of their time inside the district doing likewise.

Lilore said while he was participating in the study, he found himself more aware of how much time his daily errands were taking. He also realized how often he is within the Garment District and when he has to leave it.

“Some of the work I had to do was actually outside the Garment Center, factories in Chinatown,” he said. “I think having to check in when I was both in the neighborhood and outside the neighborhood really made me aware of how much I could get done in the neighborhood versus having to leave and go to Chinatown. Granted, it’s only a few subway stops away, but it does eat up time, a considerable amount of it.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated an 88 percent decline in businesses since 1980.