July 21, 2014


In partnership with Brika and Bow & Drape, Oak73 seeks to support the New York garment district and domestic manufacturing industry, so vital to our economy.  To spread sartorial conscientiousness (and celebrate summer) we are sponsoring a special giveaway featuring products made right here in NYC!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

It is our objective to bring attention to the Made in America movement, with particular emphasis on the sustainment of New York City’s garment manufacturing industry.  In doing so, we hope to cultivate a momentum for change in the way that we, as a country, think about shopping. 

As proud proponents of the movement, we have witnessed the growing demand by consumers for high-quality, responsibly, locally made goods, and we believe that by spreading awareness we can take a stand against what for the last several decades has been the trend to ship manufacturing overseas, and bring manufacturing back to the U.S. 

It is a practice that has drastically and negatively affected our economy, the environment, and most importantly, the integrity of our manufacturing processes.  Together, we need to start demanding higher standards of ourselves, and the things we choose to spend our money on.  We are so thankful for all of the love, loyalty, and support you have shown to us, and so we humbly ask for your help in this initiative. 

As mentioned above, and as you were no doubt already aware, American manufacturing jobs have decreased steadily in the last several decades. As Americans started demanding lower and lower prices, companies were pressured to set up manufacturing overseas where the availability of cheap labor and low standards allowed for the production of mass quantities of product for a much lower cost.

To give an idea of just how devastating this practice has been for the fashion industry alone, in 1960, 95% of the clothing sold in America was produced in America.  Now, that number is down to just around 2.5%. 

Despite those shocking statistics, the fashion industry is still an essential part of our economic and cultural vitality, with New York City continuing to hold forth as the epicenter of the fashion world, employing 173,000 people citywide and contributing $10 billion annually to the local economy. 

And if NYC is the epicenter, then the fittingly titled Garment District is fashion headquarters.  Manufacturing jobs, a critical part of the industry, provide 24,000 working and middle class jobs in the city, and 7,100 of those jobs are located within the Garment District alone: these jobs support $2 billion of economic output annually.  But numbers can only tell us so much.  They certainly don’t do any good in telling us exactly where and what the Garment District actually refers to. 

The Garment District is that square mile patch of concrete that extends more or less between Fifth and Ninth Avenues and from 35th to 41st street, and is home to the majority of New York’s showrooms, and numerous major fashion labels.  The district caters to all aspects of the fashion process—from design and production to wholesale selling, and is essentially an incubator for innovation in fashion design.  Such a self-sustaining ecosystem of industry truly doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world, which is why preserving it in the face of a precarious future is all the more important.

Though New York City introduced zoning restrictions to protect manufacturers in the Garment District, today less than 50 percent of the area’s tenants are in a fashion-related industry.  The storied neighborhood also recently dodged the threat of an impending name change, which was supposed to signify the neighborhood’s ongoing transformation from clothing factories to ‘hip office buildings and boutiques.’  In the end, banal suggestions such as Times Square South, North Chelsea, and Midtown West, along with slightly edgier propositions, like Devil’s Arcade (as it was apparently known during “grittier” times), were turned down in favor of keeping its current label. 

We’re not quite sure when Devil’s Arcade was the common epithet for what we now (still, thankfully) call the Garment District, but it’s true that New York first assumed its role as the center of the nation’s garment industry in a less than auspicious way: by producing clothes for slaves working on Southern plantations.  Then, with the advent of the Civil War, the need for thousands of soldiers’ uniforms propelled the garment industry further. 

By the 1860s, Americans were buying most of their clothing rather than making it themselves, as had been the case prior to the mid-nineteenth century, and by 1910 an estimated 70 percent of the clothing worn by American women originated in the Garment District.

This shift was largely powered by New York’s influx of immigrants; arriving from Germany, Central Europe, and later Eastern Europe, they had the business experience and trade skills to push the district into America’s culture and fashion center.  As of 1931 the Garment District had the highest concentration of garment manufacturers in the world.

The district continued to prosper and thrive, finally coming to its economic and cultural peak in the mid-‘70s.  But it wasn’t long after that when, like any other manufacturing industry, there was a mass exodus of sorts; production jobs fleeing the Garment District and heading overseas, namely to China, where the cost of doing business was astoundingly cheap.

This practice of overseas production has largely remained the status quo, but the reasons we once turned to overseas manufacturing may not be relevant anymore.  In an article written for Gotham by Suzanne McGee, McGee references former executive director of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), and a key player in Fashion Week, Fern Mallis, who thinks that designers, ‘are finding out that the pricing isn’t so different anymore, once they finish paying for freight and transportation, and given that they don’t have the ability to follow what is going on in [overseas] factories in real time.’

Designer Nanette Lepore, an advocate for the Garment District who produces 85% of her fashion line in New York City, echoed Mallis’ sentiments in a piece last year for Time, stating that for her business, ‘the cost savings [in overseas production] are negligible… If you’re at my price level [Lepore’s dresses range from $200 to $500], a little below or definitely above, you can manufacture a gorgeous product in NYC and make a profit. I know because I’ve been profitable here for the last 12 years.’

As a brand that manufactures in the USA and relies heavily on the Garment District for the production of our product, we at Oak73 can attest to the feasibility and desirability of manufacturing in New York City.  The Garment District offers an incredibly unique combination of resources to support fashion innovation, and, as so eloquently and vigorously put by The Municipal Art Society of New York, the costs of doing nothing are lost jobs, missed opportunities for strengthening a vital industry, and the erosion of a sector of the economy that in­spires entrepreneurship and helps shape NYC’s identity.

It is through the lens of the industry we love and perspire for that we hope to elucidate the importance of buying American made products, cultivating a new generation of consumers with the interest and desire to make a change in the way that we as a country manufacture, shop, and do business. 

So by way of introduction, much like a truncated Greatest Hits album, we’ve compiled a Top Five list, enumerating the most urgent reasons we need to join together in a concerted effort to buy American made products. 

Without further ado, we present: Our Top Five Reasons for Buying American:
  1. When you buy products that are made in America you support companies that are doing business in America, and you help keep the American economy growing.
  2. As the US manufacturing ability fades, future generations of US citizens will be unable to find relevant jobs; when you buy American-made you are directly voting with your dollars for more jobs to be created on home soil.
  3. When items are made in the USA, they travel shorter distances to get to you.  The more local you shop, the better it is for the environment.
  4. Quality control is much higher in American-made companies, workers don’t have to manufacture at break-neck speeds and more attention is paid to details and quality.  It may cost a bit more to pay for these conditions, but we appreciate quality over quantity.
  5. When we buy American made we can cut off demand for sweatshop-made products where workers are paid unjust wages and are forced to work in unsafe conditions.  There is no easy solution to this problem, and it is important to keep in mind the workers who rely on these wages, as unjust as they are, to survive.  But by buying American made products you show that you do not support these methods of manufacturing, and by doing so prompt changes within the companies who implement these inhumane methods of production.

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