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Garment District, Manhattan, 10030


The Garment District, also known as the Garment Center, the Fashion District, or the Fashion Center, is a neighborhood of the New York City borough of Manhattan, located between Fifth and Ninth Avenues from 34th to 42nd Street. It has been known since the early 20th century as the center for fashion design and manufacturing in the United States.


The Garment District is the fashion center of New York City. Approximately one square mile in area, the district is bordered by the Javits Convention Center at the extreme west, the James Farley General Post Office, Penn Station, and Madison Square Garden in the center, and the Empire State Building in the east. The neighborhood is home to the warehouses and workshops of the fashion industry.


New York is the fashion capital of the United States, generating over $14 billion in annual sales, and setting design trends that are mirrored worldwide. The industry sustains tens of thousands of jobs in the city, and brings hundreds of millions of dollars to New York through conferences, expositions, Fashion Week and tourism. The fashion industry is the largest single contributor to the city's manufacturing sector. The Garment District is at the center of this billion dollar clothing industry. One third of all clothing manufactured in the US is designed and produced in this neighborhood. Many of the clothing manufacturers maintain outlet stores open to the public.


New York is home to America's world renowned fashion talent. From the industry's most famous designers to its most promising entrepreneurs, fashion makers locate their businesses here, taking advantage of the city's unlimited creative resources. Oscar de la Renta, Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, Liz Claiborne and Nicole Miller, to name a few, are located in the Garment District. While New York's days as the textile-manufacturing capital of America may be over, it remains the fashion capital for designers, couture houses and showrooms.


While most of the clothing manufacturing has left the island, there are still numerous fabric shops in the Garment District. Some only carry bridal fabrics and laces, others specialize in woolens but most have a little bit of everything. Most of the goods in these stores are the leftovers from the manufacturers in the city. Apparel fabric wholesalers also have retail stores or showrooms in or near the Garment District. Wholesalers of trims or buttons and other fasteners are clustered nearby. In fact, the Garment District buildings often house similar kinds of businesses to make it easy for buyers to shop the market on foot..


Men pulling racks of clothing on busy sidewalk in Garment District (1955)

New York first assumed its role as the center of the nation's garment industry by producing clothes for slaves working on Southern plantations. It was more efficient for their masters to buy clothes from producers in New York than to have the slaves spend time and labor making the clothing themselves. In addition to supplying clothing for slaves, tailors produced other ready-made garments for sailors and western prospectors during slack periods in their regular business.


Prior to the mid-nineteenth century, the majority of Americans either made their own clothing, or if they were wealthy, purchased "tailor-made" customized clothing. By the 1820s, however, an increasing number of ready-made garments of a higher quality were being produced for a broader market.


The production of ready-made clothing, which continued to grow, completed its transformation to an "industrialized" profession with the invention of the sewing machine in the 1850s.


The need for thousands of ready-made soldiers' uniforms during the American Civil War helped the garment industry to expand further. By the end of the 1860s, Americans bought most of their clothing rather than making it themselves.


German and Central European immigrants to America around the mid-19th century arrived on the scene with relevant business experience and skills just as garment production was passing from a proto-industrial phase to a more advanced stage of manufacture. In the early twentieth-century a largely Eastern European immigrant workforce powered the garment trades.


Writing in 1917, Abraham Cahan credited these immigrants with the creation of American style:


Foreigners ourselves, and mostly unable to speak English, we had Americanized the system of providing clothes for the American woman of moderate or humble means. The average American woman is the best-dressed woman in the world, and the Russian Jew has had a good deal to do with making her one.




With an ample supply of cheap labor and a well-established distribution network, New York was prepared to meet the demand. During the 1870s the value of garments produced in New York increased sixfold. By 1880 New York produced more garments than its four closest urban competitors combined, and in 1900 the value and output of the clothing trade was three times that of the city's second largest industry, sugar refining. New York's function as America's culture and fashion center also helped the garment industry by providing constantly changing styles and new demand; in 1910, 70% of the nation's women's clothing and 40% of the men's was produced in the City.


Louis ("Lepke") Buchalter and his desire to control the industry led him to create the idea of a labor union within the garment district. By exerting pressure on both labor and management, he soon dominated entire industries by forcing employers to pay his organization in order to keep union workers in line. At the height of his power, Lepke controlled the entire garment trade and the bakery delivery truck union in New York City.


Cheaper overseas labor and production has severely damaged the New York industry for decades. This change has forced extreme setbacks for small cutting and sewing rooms as well as zipper and button stores in this once thriving area. Many of these stores have been severely damaged economically or have been driven out all together. Mass production of these materials have moved to locations such as India, China, and Latin America.


Charles Bagli of the New York Times wrote "Some city officials and industry leaders worry that if manufacturing is wiped out, many of the designers who bring so much luster to New York will leave, along with the city’s claim to be a fashion capital rivaling Paris and Milan. The damage would be undeniable, given that the industry’s two big annual events — Fashion Week in September and February — attract enormous numbers of visitors and generate hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity."


Although these are difficult times for many industries, including New Yorks Garment District, there are many organizations working hard to keep this district strong. One such organization is The Fashion Center Business improvement District. This non-profit organization works hard to sustain and improve upon the vibrancy and vitality of Midtown Manhattan’s Fashion District by promoting the area as a strategic business location for fashion and non-fashion related business alike.


Just a few of the programs set up by The Fashion Center BID include a Fashion Walk of Fame on 7th Avenue, Arts Festivals, and Fashion Center Information Kiosk also located on 7th Avenue. This Information Kiosk provides sourcing information and industry-related services to fashion professionals, students, hobbyists, visitors, and shoppers.




Save the Garment Center campaign has also been created in an effort to preserve this district.


The Garment District's access to transport makes it desirable to businesses. It is within walking distance of Pennsylvania Station and Grand Central Terminal where NJ transit, Amtrak, LIRR (Long Island Rail Road) and Metro North Railroad have services. As fashion manufacturing declines, buildings are converted to office space. Businesses such as accountants, lawyers, public relations and many high-tech companies move into the area. Companies that are located in the area included LivePerson, Amnesty USA, Simplicato and Enigmedia.


Foot Locker has its headquarters in the 112 West 34th Street Building, while Aeroméxico operates a ticket office in the same building.


The Consulate-General of Costa Rica in New York is Suite 1202 in the Penn Plaza Building at 225 West 34th Street.


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