Report: Zoning and Lack of Marketing are Problems for Garment District



A man reads at a woman's clothing store. Photo: Seth Wenig, AP

With designers moving out of buildings en masse and rezoning plans on hold in the Garment District, opportunities for success are limited for young designers and entrepreneurs who want to break into the unpredictable world of fashion, according to a new report from urban planning advocates.

The Municipal Art Society of New York, a non-profit organization that promotes design, urban planning, and preservation for New York City neighborhoods, released its findings at a summit Friday after a year-long look at the Garment District’s problems. “Our vision is not just about saving the Garment District but the future of the city. We need to create new jobs,” fashion designer and summit panelist Yeohlee Teng said.

The 71-page report, released at Frederick P. Rose Hall in Manhattan, warns if citizens and communities leaders sit and do nothing to revitalize the Garment District, it will erode a “a sector of the economy that inspires entrepreneurship and helps shape NYC’s identity.”

Vin Cipolla, president of the society, said the Garment District’s zip code includes 25,000 fashion-related jobs and nearly 2,000 fashion establishments, which is the highest of any zip code in the United States.

The society conducted a two-day summit presenting more than 75 speakers with ideas and possible solutions to make the nation’s largest city more livable.

Among the recommendations from the report:

–       Developing a campaign encouraging new and established designers to use business owners in the district to source and produce, which would market products made in New York City.

–       Create incentive programs that help designers that manufacture in the Garment District to take advantage of a reduction or elimination of sales taxes for items bought in New York City.

–       Improve the trade show experience, because designers have concerns with the lack of marketing and the value of the city’s fashion to potential event producers.  Designers also say that the scheduling and marketing of high profile events such as New York’s Fashion Week and Market Week needs improvement.

–       Updating the zoning in the district that was put in place over two decades ago.  The report claims that the existing zone framework does not reflect the diversity of activity in the district and the area failed to “express commitment to grow the fashion industry and provide some security for garment manufacturing.”

“Obviously a made in NYC label would have a great chance of success. Also, clearly zoning alone cannot protect this district,” Cipolla said. “We must work to together to leverage the district’s strengths and ensure that the Garment District is a place that continues to matter in the future.”

One of the areas the report spent time on is the zoning and infrastructure of New York City. Philip K. Howard, a Municipal Art Society board member, said that not only is the physical infrastructure of the city in shambles, but the legal infrastructure makes it hard to get anything done. “New York is woefully lacking in one area which will be a damper on the culture of the city and our competitiveness in years to come if we don’t address it,” he said. Howard said the current zoning codes are remnants of the 19th century and that aspiring small business owners face an uphill battle getting starting. “We need to start over and create a code that enhances the vibrancy of our city.”

The regulatory system for small business needs overhauling as well, Howard said.  He said citizens can’t start a business and comply with the regulations because they are too complicated. “It’s an exercise in frustration,” he said.