In the last two decades, the United States has lost 80 percent of its apparel manufacturing jobs, but one New York-based project seeks to change that by creating a space for the design and manufacture of clothing in Brooklyn.
Manufacture New York, whose founder Bob Bland is a fashion designer and entrepreneur, launched an Indiegogo campaign last week to raise money to pay for space and equipment and to create jobs. The group plans to occupy a 20,000 square foot space in Brooklyn's Industry City, which will bring apparel manufacturing jobs home, introduce a new generation of designers to manufacturing and teach those involved in all parts of the process about sustainable practices.
Founder Bob Bland says it is time for a project like this to happen. "We need this. Independent designers are going to continue moving out of the city until we have a way for them - from concept to production - to compete with the big brands," she told Earth911.
Many designers want to make quality, merchandisable products, but it can be challenging, if not impossible, to make a living designing those products, Bland explained. Manufacture New York aims to provide the space and knowledge necessary for independent designers to succeed and to show them that sustainable choices are often times the most practical.
How the Project Began
After seeing the conditions of Chinese factories where many garments are made, Bob Bland realized that fashion needed to change.
"The fact that [workers] were making clothes for us that were beautiful, really high-quality pieces, while at the same time wearing discarded samples, was just unsettling for me. Being a part of that made me want to level the playing field for everyone. Designers and makers both have integral contributions to make to the apparel design and production process and we deserve to have the same lifestyle and compensation," she said.
Bland decided to ensure that her own line of clothing, Brooklyn Royalty, would only be manufactured in the U.S. and she wanted to find ways for other designers to do the same. She knew that sourcing materials and finding affordable manufacturers for garments could be really difficult, and this project may be a solution to that problem.
"Manufacture New York is everything I ever dreamed of as an independent designer myself," Bland said. It will offer space, mentorship and cost-effective production.
Of the 20,000 square feet of space Manufacture New York will occupy, half will be incubator - or design - space and half will be for manufacturing. Bland hoped to level the playing field in fashion, and the new space will literally do that by putting the process of creating apparel - from start to finish - on one floor.
"I’m so excited by the idea of exposing a whole new generation of fashion designers to the production process and reconnecting them with that," Bland said. "I really feel like people don't appreciate what technicians apparel makers are and that everything really is made by hand. Yes, you’re at a machine, but there’s an operator at each machine."
The facility will be located 20 minutes from the garment district in Manhattan, and Bland says this will allow the designers to stay connected to that part of town.
The building itself will house many designers. 50 memberships will be available, and designers who pay for memberships will receive workspace. Private studio spaces will also be available for an additional fee.
The headquarters will include amenities such as a fully-equipped sampling room, classroom space and a computer lab with design and production software, according to Manufacture New York's Indiegogo page. Opportunities for mentorship and education will be available within the space as well.
"We will also offer a dedicated area for experimentation with environmentally-friendly fabric washes, dyeing, finishes and special textile applications," notes the Indiegogo pitch.
Sustainability in the New Fashion District
Bland believes there will be a shift toward more sustainable, locally-produced fashion in the future. "We’re starting to see demand for 'made in the USA' production from the bigger houses, and that can really make a difference," Bland said.
She also pointed out that many designers, especially those who are just starting out, may already be making sustainable choices, even if they aren't aware they're doing so.
"The thing is, most designers, whether they realize it or not, were already employing sustainable and eco-friendly practices because it’s also the most economically practical option most of the time," Bland said. Designers don't always choose eco-friendly fabrics like those made from bamboo, Bland explained, but they often choose salvaged materials because those are the most affordable.
"Whenever someone asks me what my favorite eco-shop is, I say, ‘I love the consignment store.’ That’s where I go for my things because to me, when I think of what is the most sustainable thing, what is the most low-waste product, it’s something that’s already been used," Bland explained.
Manufacture New York will also be eco-friendly because by nature it will cut down on shipping, since all parts of the process from design to manufacturing will take place in one building. Finished products will not need to be shipped in from overseas, dramatically reducing the carbon footprint of these fashions.
Additionally, being located in one communal place will allow for collaborative sourcing, which mean designers can order materials together. By doing so, they will be able to achieve more affordable pricing, which will allow for better - often local - sourcing, Bland explained.
In general, the space will allow for the opportunity to teach more people about sustainable fashion options because they will be under one roof.
"Our intention is to bring a wide range of designers from all sorts of value systems […] to domestically producing their products," Bland said. "And then once they’re in the facility, we can educate them and show them how sustainable sourcing and sustainable manufacturing practices can actually be the most practical options."
To learn more about Manufacture New York's project, watch the video below. To donate to the campaign, which runs through March 31, check out their project page at Indiegogo.