NEW YORK —
Many of the world's most revered designers create their fashions in New York City. But often those designs are manufactured overseas to save money.
Now, New York is providing economic incentives to encourage more manufacturing in the city and entice emerging designers to take root there.
In New York City, the fashion industry accounts for more than five percent of the workforce and generates nearly $18 billion a year in retail sales.
Despite economic ups and downs, wholesalers, manufacturers and designers have been doing business here in New York's Garment district since the 1880's. Mayor Bill de Blasio says the industry is integral to the city.
“Not only a functionally key sector of our economy but one of the most iconic industries in this city. Something so deeply identified with the character and personality of New York City and we want to make sure it stays that way and, in fact, becomes stronger,” he said.
This year, the City will allocate $15 million to encourage emerging designers and manufacturers to create fashions locally through a program called Made in New York.
Eligible companies like Leota, must sell at least 1,000 products annually and design, cut, sew, assemble and finish their fashions in the city. Founder Sarah Carson is looking forward to additional Made in New York production incentives.
“Getting that financing as a small business, as a growing business, is really key to expanding my business here to creating more jobs right here in New York and fueling the growth of the garment industry and fashion industry in New York,” she said.
Leota was launched in New York four years ago and has steadily grown. But manufacturing in New York has limitations -- sky-high rents, an aging workforce and outdated technology.
“We lack some of the technology that we need to do some of the knitting techniques and laser cutting and popular styles that people are buying right now," Carson said. "We can’t make them here.”
The Made in New York program provides incentives to factories that invest in technology and workforce development. So far, the city has granted more than a million dollars to eligible factories.
Kenny Hung owns the local factory where Leota designs are manufactured. It's a family business he runs with his wife, Carmen. He says there is not enough consistent fashion manufacturing work to keep his seamstresses busy year round.
To help fix that, the city created an electronic platform connecting local designers with local production facilities. Hopefully, that means more business for factories and skilled workers.
Plus, if Hung invests in technology upgrades, he could qualify for cash incentives that would position his factory as an even more attractive option for New York-based designers.
New Yorkers hope to see the 100 percent Made in New York distinction more often in the future.