As New York’s historic Garment District continues to be a hub of innovation for the domestic manufacturing movement, we decided to take a tour of the neighborhood. We spoke with Mei from C&J Sportswear, a factory that works with small businesses and luxury brands alike for pattern development, sample development, and small-scale production runs, to find out more about what the Garment District stands for today. This is the first part of an interview series with factory owners and workers in New York’s industrial heart.
What is the best part about being located in the Garment District? Why is it unique?
Foremost, being located in the heart of the Garment District is incredibly convenient. We are surrounded by suppliers, vendors and manufacturers of all kinds, which makes it easy to purchase and transport trimmings and other manufacturing components whenever we need. Our location also makes it convenient for our customers as they can drop by when they are in the area visiting their other vendors.
As a whole, the Garment District is unique in the sense that it’s one of the only existing historic neighborhoods left intact in New York. Despite rocketing rents in neighboring areas, the drive and desire of American designers to maintain a Made in USA/Made in New York initiative creates coalitions that foster and support the ongoing capability for New York manufacturers to remain situated in the center of Manhattan.
Does your location add to your identity as a company?
It does in the sense that we are a boutique factory catering to designer and high-end labels. We are not a huge warehouse off in the suburbs that churns out garments by the thousands, so I suppose the boutique nature of our manufacturing and development is well-suited to be situated in the heart of the city.
How have you seen the industry change? Particularly, how has the Garment District changed in recent years and are you seeing growth or resurgence today?
There does seem to be a slow and steady resurgence as increasing overseas manufacturing prices in China have caused a lot of brands to reevaluate their logistics chain. As well, from a branding perspective, many brands are recognizing the importance of having a “desirable” country of origin. Especially with overseas manufacturing prices rising, the incremental benefit to having a label that states “Made in the USA” has become far greater than the incremental cost savings to produce overseas. Though at times it is a bit ad hoc, it does benefit domestic manufacturing. There have been and continues to be shifts in the industry as some vendors and manufacturers grow quickly and others have shuttered. As this industry is still run on fairly archaic processes by today’s standards, it has become about who can stay up to speed in technology, processes, as well as keeping up with quick, fickle consumer and designer interests. Designers also expect that with the higher domestic manufacturing costs, that they will receive the best manufacturing quality, so factories that cannot keep up to speed with these quality demands will falter as compared with their counterparts who can meet designer demands.
What are some of your favorite spots in the area? Fun facts about the Garment District?
We love K-Town. Our factory is Korean owned and we get lunch from there quite often. Dean & DeLuca and Cafe Grumpy are also coffee staples. Everyone goes to Sil for their dependable and vast array of supplies and trims.
What is it like being a factory in the USA, especially the Garment District? Why manufacture with you as opposed to going overseas?
It is challenging. Labor costs, rent costs, and general operating costs are very high. Designers demand high quality work for a reasonable prices which drives margins to a very tight point. On the other hand, there is the convenience factor of being so hands on with designers who are able to walk over to us and have frequent meetings and discussions to ensure that needs are not lost in translation/in transit as often happens with overseas manufacturing. There is a flexibility to achieve a much higher quality end product because of this fluidity in communication and collaboration. We believe this is ultimately the most important benefit to our designers as opposed to working overseas – there’s just an immensely greater amount of oversight and quality control that our customers are able to engage in.
What does being Made in USA mean to you?
It means that we are supporting the local community and employing skilled workers. We are also preserving a manufacturing sector that has created a rich history of innovation and development in apparel in American history from denim to workwear to aviators to the classic t-shirt – it all started here.
What advice do you have for designers wanting to manufacture in the USA and when working with a factory?
Make sure you have a sound budget. Development costs and production costs add up quickly when working with domestic factories. First season is all about clear communication and building a trusting partnership. Don’t take for granted the knowledge that you expect your manufacturer to bring the table, walk through everything carefully and step by step so that everyone is always on the same page regarding expectations. Come prepared and don’t expect your factory to figure everything out for you. Take the time to carefully plan out your fabrics, technical details of your designs, fit, etc.
What are some trends that you see in the industry today? What are some trends or new design features that you’ve seen?
A lot of people are working with fringe and tweeds these past two seasons. Shirting and minimalism as well as sportswear are really hot.
What’s the weirdest product you’ve ever made?
We made some organic cotton aprons for someone once.
What are your company goals for the future?
Grow our client base and expand our staff. And stabilize cash flows and improve our profit margins, of course!
If C&J Sportswear sounds like your kind of factory, find out more here.
Plus, we’ve just hit 8,000 American factories on our database, and we’re celebrating! Get your first month for just $8 with the promo code MR8K.