YEOHLEE FALL 2016 - HARPER'S BAZAAR OCT. 2016
September 22, 2016
"Also bringing attention to New York designs—and a major tent pole of the initiative—is Made in NY's official certification program, which recognizes those companies that do at least 75 percent of their production in the city. Thirty-seven brands have been awarded this honor so far, including Rosie Assoulin, Lela Rose, Milly, Rachel Comey, Zero + Maria Cornejo, Yeohlee, and Dannijo."
By Lauren McCarthy, Sept. 19, 2016
"I'd rather promote New York than anything else in this world because New York to me means the world," designer Donna Karan, one of the city's most enthusiastic residents, has said about the place where she was born and built her brand.
While Karan was so enchanted with the city that she created an entire line, DKNY, dedicated to dressing its downtown denizens, the rest of the fashion industry was equally as entrenched. Following World War II, when women were entering the workforce with Rosie the Riveter–like vigor, designers such as Bonnie Cashin, Claire McCardell, and Anne Klein were on hand to outfit them with reimagined sportswear. Of course, fashion's symbiotic relationship with New York continued to evolve: There was the louche sexiness of the Studio 54 era, where Halston, Diane von Furstenberg, and Bill Blass were habitués in the '70s; the All-American workwear period of Karan, Ralph Lauren, and Perry Ellis in the '80s; the rise of minimalism and streetwise grunge, courtesy of Calvin Klein, Geoffrey Beene, and Marc Jacobs in the '90s; and today's crop of in-demand designers, including Alexander Wang, Joseph Altuzarra, and Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen, whose wares can be seen on everyone from Upper East Side socialites to club-going kids in Brooklyn.
As different as the designers may be in aesthetics, their legacies have become part of the fabric of the city, and New York's Deputy Mayor of Housing and Economic Development Alicia Glen aims to keep it that way, with the Made in NY initiative. "There is power in something made locally that people can feel attached to," she says. "Fashion especially is important. There are hundreds of thousands of people in the [New York] fashion industry. Our job is to figure out how we as a city government can intervene and put our own resources in those buckets."
Originally focused on bringing television and film production to the city, Made in NY has grown to include the fashion industry since Glen became deputy mayor in 2014. "Great fashion comes from a diverse set of cultures," says Glen. "And what other major global city has a diversity of talent and ethnic backgrounds that ultimately results in great fashion?"
Outsourcing is not an option for this initiative, which supports the local fashion industry as a whole, comprising 185,000 jobs and $11.6 billion in wages within the five boroughs. In 2015 alone, Mayor Bill de Blasio tripled the city's fashion investment from $5 million to $15 million, and this year the city is continuing to build on the momentum.
Among the investments in the works is $74 million that will go toward expanding one of the greatest bastions of creativity, the Fashion Institute of Technology. The money has been earmarked for the first new academic building in more than 40 years at the school, part of the State University of New York system, which is slated to break ground next year. "We thought it would be a concrete investment in the industry and its capacity to evolve and to grow," says Glen. "It's a public university. Think about that. What does that say about us as a city? That the best and the brightest from around the world are coming to a public university."
In planning the new building, Glen has worked in tandem with FIT's president, Joyce F. Brown. "The deputy mayor is just a great advocate for the fashion industry, the fashion sector, and the creative sector of New York City," says Brown. "It's very difficult for young, aspiring creative people to be able to function here. By providing financial help or incubator space or internships or mentoring, we're creating an ability for all the creative talent that's in the pipeline to emerge and develop. Ultimately we'll reinforce the city's footprint in the manufacturing and design sectors."
As the map of the fashion industry grows, it's also moving away from Manhattan's garment district, historically known as the center of all things fashion. "The bottom line is, manufacturing has been shrinking dramatically in the garment district for obvious reasons," says Glen. "Buildings are outdated, and they're not well suited for modern manufacturing. You can watch it wither, or if you fundamentally believe in it like I do, you've got to do something."
The answer may lie across the river in Brooklyn, where Glen and her team are working on a $10 million investment in Sunset Park's Bush Terminal complex to transform part of it into a state-of-the-art fashion manufacturing hub, complete with room for designers, manufacturers, and incubators. "I don't want just one designer out there," Glen says. "I want to blow this thing out."
Along with providing a space for designers to work, the nonprofit New York City Economic Development Corporation has teamed with the Council of Fashion Designers of America on the Fashion Manufacturing Initiative, which aims to revive manufacturing in the city by providing grants to New York–based operations, awarding more than $2 million to 18 companies since its September 2013 launch. Additionally, NYCEDC has partnered with Capital Business Credit on the NYC Fashion Production Fund, which provides financing to new designers to help with production costs.
"Our goal is to help these emerging entrepreneurs and small companies scale their businesses so they can grow here in New York and employ more New Yorkers," says Kate Daly, senior vice president of NYCEDC's Center for Economic Transformation. "We want to support all different levels and types of jobs that are available here."
In addition to up-and-coming designers, the city has partnered with established businesses as well. In August 2015, Barneys New York and the CFDA celebrated the release of a "Made in New York" capsule collection, which featured limited-edition looks from the Row, Altuzarra, Thom Browne, and Proenza Schouler. (A portion of the proceeds went to the Fashion Manufacturing Initiative.) "We were really proud of that," says Daly. "Everybody wins, and it was a great way to get national attention on the amazing designs that are coming out of New York."
Also bringing attention to New York designs—and a major tent pole of the initiative—is Made in NY's official certification program, which recognizes those companies that do at least 75 percent of their production in the city. Thirty-seven brands have been awarded this honor so far, including Rosie Assoulin, Lela Rose, Milly, Rachel Comey, Zero + Maria Cornejo, Yeohlee, and Dannijo.
"As a U.S.-based business, being made in New York is a great luxury," says Cornejo. "Knowing who made your clothes, being able to access them quickly and have a close relationship with the people creating the garments is incredibly important to us."
"For us, the brand is about so much more than beautiful statement designs," adds jewelry designer Danielle Synder, a cofounder and creative director of Dannijo. "It has a spirit and a story, and is very much tied to our lives in New York. There is a real sense of quality craftsmanship in our pieces, and New York speaks to that aesthetic and ambition."
Glen is intent on keeping it that way. "There is no more powerful brand in the world than New York City," she says. "The continuing question for us is, How are you going to take the power of that brand and give it to the people who are doing their work in New York? I don't want some guy in L.A. putting 'Made in New York' on his jeans. That's not happening, not on my watch."