USA: Business owners unite to save garment center

NEW YORK: Due to influx of offices and hotels the rents in the fashion district have reached high levels.  To save the garment center, fabric mongers have stitched together a message “Unite against gentrification!”.

Wednesday has been declared as "Save the Garment Center Pin Day" by the business activists in the midtown neighborhood.  Business owners are taking up needles to promote the event, designing fabric pins embroidered with the "Save the Garment Center" logo.

As many manufacturers themselves do not have a real awareness of the situation this event will alert and educate the manufacturer about what is taking place, said Larry Geffner, the owner of a pleating business and member of a Save the Garment Center coalition.

About 50 years ago the streets were clogged with European immigrants pulling racks cloaked with fabrics, embroideries and finished garments. A small nucleus of fabric and button sellers, fashion studios and contracted sewing workers remains today, Geffner said.

As fabric and trim suppliers, cut-and-sew contractors and fashion company showrooms are losing their leases, the city is considering rezoning to allow offices, the coalition said.

"It's about saving the community that exists," said Geffner. "It's the backbone of the fashion capital of the world. Without it the whole thing will come tumbling down."

A Fashion Week organizer lauded the effort to protect what has long been a vital part of the fashion design business in New York.

"The fashion industry is one of New York's stellar, marquee industries," said Fern Mallis, vice president of IMG Fashion, the company that owns Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. "Working with us to keep the shows and the showrooms and the design studios in New York is important to the city's agenda."

In shops and design studios, the word about Save the Garment Center Day had yet to spread, but many were receptive to the idea. Richie Rich, one of the founding designers of the fashion company Heatherette, said it's important to remember that garment district workers are paid an equitable wage compared to work that's done overseas.

It really is the heart and soul of what fashion design in America is said Rich.
Textile vendors, meanwhile, have felt changes in the fashion district not in their heart, but their wallets.  "We're struggling right now to pay our rent," said Jenet Hatami. If business doesn't pick up, Hatami said she doesn't know what to do.

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Added: July 18, 2007 Source: Agencies
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