These days, it's hard to come by a label that touts "Made in the USA," and don't even mention "Made in NYC." Indeed, domestic clothing production largely fell by the wayside back in the '70s, but, luckily, there’s a strong contingent of New York-based designers working to change that. It’s a movement that has continued to gain strength in more recent years, thanks to people like Nanette Lepore and Maria Cornejo.
These leaders are joined by a contingency of fashion movers doing their best to bring it local, like Jason Wu (who manufactures 95 percent of his line in NYC), Thakoon (he makes roughly 50 percent of his collection here), and Theory (they make all samples here and a portion of the label), but the change is still somewhat limited to categories like knitwear. Michael Kors and Elie Tahari have also been big components for the movement, yet due to their large volumes, they aren’t really able to produce much of their respective collections here.
Here, Lepore and Co. share how they are doing it and why it’s worth it. Needless to say, it makes us love their locally grown threads even more.
Photo: Courtesy of Rachel Comey.
Background: Comey founded her once menswear-only label back in 2001, and has since made her women’s collection the centerpiece of her brand. A bit rock-and-roll and a bit vintage, the Comey line has increasingly gained a steady following of dedicated clientele.
The details: “One of the best things about producing here in New York is the close relationships we have with our factories that we have fostered over many years,” says the designer. “They’re our close colleagues, good friends, and our secret weapons.”
Special features: Comey works with very small factories. “It’s not a big assembly line, the same sewers work on the garments from start to finish, save for hand sewing at the end. Being able to communicate in-person the design and production of a garment is very important to us,” she says.
Photo: Courtesy of Adeam.
Hanako Maeda, Adeam
Background: New Yorkers got their first glimpse of Maeda’s Adeam when it hit the runways last season for Fall 2013. The Japanese native, however, previously showed her nature-inspired, wearable line at Tokyo Fashion Week in October 2012. “One of the reasons why I moved my studio from Tokyo to New York is the close relationship you build with the work rooms,” she says. “Because of the proximity of the garment district to my studio, I'm able to visit the work rooms regularly and really build a long lasting relationship with them.”
The details: All Adeam ready-to-wear pieces are made in small workrooms, each with a couture atelier hand, throughout the Garment District. “For instance, one of our factories specialize in eveningwear, and have their own embroiderers as well as patternmakers and sewers,” says Maeda.
Special features: Maeda has been working with Nicolas Caito Atelier (Caito has also worked with the likes of Alber Elbaz and Olivier Theyskens), since launching her line in 2011. “Nicolas is a 'modeliste' in the traditional French sense, and is more than just a patternmaker,” she says. “He is truly dedicated to bringing the designer's vision to life.”
Photo: Courtesy Dannijo.
Danielle and Jodie Snyder, Dannijo
Background: At this point, this sister-act design team hardly needs an introduction. Everyone from Natalie Portman to Beyonce has rocked their colorful bijoux (first launched in 2007), all of which are made right here in Manhattan. “We have a very special relationship with our production team and there's a really unique, familial energy that makes for a magical creative process.” Though the costs of doing so are higher, the Schneider sisters believe it’s well worth the extra dough.
The details: “We're really big believers in the level of craftsmanship here in New York, and we like the fact that we're involved every step of the way. Making the pieces here allows for a higher level of quality control and that to us is of utmost importance in building a luxury brand,” they report. “And, we love the idea of supporting the local economy.”
Special features: The duo has an in-house team that makes all first prototypes.
Photo: Courtesy of Cushnie Et Ochs.
Carly Cushnie and Michelle Ochs, Cushnie et Ochs
Background: Since launching the label in 2008, these two designers have made sexy cutouts and bodycon dresses their trademark, much to the delight of fans like Karlie Kloss, Reese Witherspoon, and Rihanna.
The details: The collection is currently all manufactured in Manhattan factories just down the street from their studio in the Garment District. “Producing our collection locally really allows us to maintain quality and catch problems early as they arise. Also, we are able to produce store reorders very quickly and get good on the floor as and when they need them,” they report.
Photo: Courtesy of Jennifer Chun
Background: After stints at Michael Kors, Derek Lam, and Brian Reyes, the designer decided to fly solo in 2009. Chun produces her namesake collection of menswear-inspired looks entirely in New York City.
The details: Chun first met the team at her factory years ago, while she was still working for another designer (her lips are sealed as to what designer). When she started her own line, she continued working with the same factory. “They are almost like family to me now and we really work hard to make things easier for each other and have each others best interests in mind,” she explains.
Special features: “One challenge is how not everything is done in one factory,” says Chun. “You do the cutting, grading, sewing, beading, pleating, etc., all in different factories.”
Photo: Courtesy of Nanette Lepore.
Background: The majority of the designer’s brightly colored, namesake label is made in Manhattan just a block away from her design studio. She’s actively involved in the Save the Garment Center initiative, encouraging people to produce their clothes domestically and support preservation of the city’s Garment Center. “It allows me to have better control on quality and inventory, a fast turnaround, and a smaller carbon footprint,” says Lepore.
The details: “The first cutting room I ever worked with was run by a Jimmy Lepore. Across the street from my office is the sewing factory that makes all of my pants. The business was started by a woman back in the 70s. Urban legend has it she was one of the first female factory owners in the Garment Center,” she reports.
Photo: Courtesy of Nonoo.
Misha Nonoo, Nonoo
Background: From her line’s incarnation, Nonoo has been dedicated to achieving the level of Savile Row craftsmanship she experienced during her time apprenticing for a local atelier. The CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalist’s devotion to impeccable workmanship shines through in the finishing touches of her smartly tailored, wearable silhouettes.
The details: “This season, I worked with a third-generation, family-run business that has been a part of the garment district for the past 90 years,” reports Nonoo, who held her first runway show for Spring 2014. “Their craft was learnt in Paris and is all hand-done. They have special old-school European techniques that only they can capture — I have never seen this quality of pleating here in the states, so I was really excited to find them.”
Special features: Nonoo just recently hired her first in-house pattern maker, a move that’s part of her plan to eventually have a fully vertical, integrated business. “My dream is to have my own production facilities in New York City’s Garment District, so that I can continue to produce at a consistent level of quality, fit and tailoring at a competitive price point,” she says. “Owning and operating a production facility within the garment district embraces the ideals of Savile Row, which have so heavily inspired my brand.”
Photo: Courtesy of Milly.
Michelle Smith, Milly
Background: Femininity has always been a core part of the Milly DNA, but in more recent years, the contemporary label has upped its edge factor with a dash of athleticism. Zippers, crop tops, and cutouts have all made their way into the colorful line.
The details: When the line was first launched in 2001, everything was made in New York. These days, however, about 90 percent produced here in NYC. (The remaining percentage is “fully fashioned knitwear which cannot be produced in the U.S.”) Her pattern-makers work a floor below her studio. Having the manufacturing done in the city allows her to oversee the special details, such as the zippers which are custom-made to the fabrics.
Special features: Michelle designs almost all of her own prints, which a key part of her repertoire. Her surf print from resort is a good example – she designed the print and then sent it to one of her favorite Italian printers, who rendered it on neoprene. With an engineered print like that, the placement of the pattern on top for cutting must be done very carefully — to stabilize the fabric, it was nail-cut, and was sewn locally in the Garment District.
Photo: Courtesy of Wes Gordon.
Background: The Central Saint Martins grad honed his skills while interning with Oscar de la Renta and Tom Ford, then officially debuted his line of ultra-feminine looks for the Fall 2010 season. Since then, leading ladies ranging from Michelle Obama to Katy Perry have been spotted wearing his designs.
The details: 100 percent of Gordon’s production is done in the Garment District. “The resources available are absolutely astounding,” says Gordon. “There are countless trim companies, factories, fabric reps, etc. all crammed into a three-block radius. New York is a city that really celebrates individuality, and as a result, the fashion scene and street style are incredible and always inspiring.”
Photo: Courtesy of Gigi Burris.
Gigi Burris, milliner
Background: Burris, inspired to keep the dying craft of millinery alive, launched her line in 2009. Her collection of delicate toppers, embellished with ombre turkey plumes, lambskin leather rosettes, and alligator skin, is all made right here in New York. “One of the reasons I fell in love with this niche craft is because of the romance in its history,” she explains. “By producing locally, with multi-generational places, it keeps me close to this original love.”
The details: All of her blocking (the final stage of the textile making process that adjusts the shape), which involves rope, steam, and a fire oven, is done by hand at Albrizios Factory in midtown. “Carved wooden blocks line the walls, it is a place I fell immediately in love with,” says Burris. “My silk flowers are made by hand at M & S Schmalberg, also in midtown, and incredible flowers of all colors line the walls there, too.”
Special features: “There is a very friendly black cat who I get to visit when I got to my hat blocking factory,” says the young milliner.
Photo: Courtesy of Steven Alan.
Background: Steven Alan opened his first retail store back in 1994 and since then, the focus has always been on showcasing emerging designers. He has created his own empire of stores across the country that house American-made products from the likes of Clare Vivier, Edith A. Miller, and his namesake label, of course.
Details: When he first started his line, he would head to the Garment District to jobbers, and then to fabric mills for his prints. Today, they are fabricated by computer. His Steven Alan collections feature plenty of pieces made in America, like his popular Glen Plaid dress and Garnell top.