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Secret Histories: Fun Little Known Facts about the Garment District

  • Colorful display of zippers in trimming shop window
  • Ralph Lauren’s plaque on the fashion walk of fame
  • Iconic needle through button and man at sewing machine sculptures in New York’s garment district.
What you didn't know about the Garment District

It’s been around for as long as anyone can remember, but how much do we really know about New York’s fabled fashion center?

These days, New York’s Fashion Mile is between Fifth and Ninth, from 34th street to 42nd, though that hasn’t always been the case. Originating in the 1800s, the Garment District has crept uptown before resting in its current location. The Save the Garment Center campaign is doing what it can to stop its upward mobility in the face of high rents and pressure for more office space.

All of Manhattan’s top designers go about their business here because of its easy access. All the bits and bobs can be found in one place, from streetwear to haute couture, from fabrics to finishing. In all, eight hundred and forty six fashion companies are headquartered here, making it the fashion capital of the world!

As famous as it is, the Garment District is still full of surprises. Here’s our rundown of its history and some of the little-known facts of the area:

1. Necessity is the Mother of Fashion

For centuries, European centers like London and Paris determined the fashions of the day. However when war broke out in the late 30s, the people of America needed to find a new stylistic voice since both London and Paris were silenced. New York stepped up and began producing new styles that men and women of America bought.

This new demand meant that the fashion industry exploded in the Big Apple. The Garment District’s place in the sun was cemented by the fact that Paris and London could no longer focus on art while war consumed the Continent.

2. With Order Came Chaos

Louis

We think of the mob rising to power following Prohibition, but the mob also weaved its way into the fashion industry. According to the New York Times, the Gotti Clan infiltrated the industry by running trucking firms that transported fabric to warehouses and intimidating — or worse — those who refused to cooperate.

More modern mobsters, as late as 1994, operated in a slightly different way: working ‘no-show’ jobs within unions, siphoning millions of dollars from the unions, and using bribes to convince union officials to look the other way, says one report from United Press International.

3. There’s a ‘Walk of Fame’ just like in LA!

Ralf Lauren

The Garment Center has a Hollywood-style ‘Fashion Walk of Fame,’ right on 7th avenue and stretches from 35th Street to 41st Street. Instead of gaudy stars, this walk is studded with tres chic metal disks highlighting designers of note and what they are known for. Look for fashion phenoms like Diane von Furstenberg, Anne Klein, and Oscar de la Renta.

4. It’s Not Always Been in the Same Place

Zippers

By now, you know that the original Garment District was in the Lower East Side and, contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t zoning laws that prompted the move north. The proprietors of upscale department stores complained that the factory’s workers were too low-class and, as NBC New York says, were “a menace, a nuisance, and a blight” to their customers and stores.

5. Shop with a Guide to Get a Deal!

Insiders know that there are great bargains to be had in the boutiques and showrooms of the fashion district: with hard work and a special knowledge of sample sales, but the best way to bag a bargain is to take a shopping tour. Pick up amazing pieces at wholesale prices — and get behind the scenes — on an official Garment District walking tour.

6. The Numbers are Down

Before fast fashion became de rigeur, the Garment District managed to produce an astounding 60% of all fashion worn in the United States of the 1960’s, according to Save the Garment Center.

Now, the industry makes only 3% of American-worn fashion, even though New York is the home to more fashion brands than Milan, London, and Paris combined — all three of which are the city’s major partners in the annual Fashion Weeks that the city is known for. The industry also keeps 24,000 New Yorkers employed, meaning buying local could be as easy as picking out a new purse.

7. It Punches above it’s Weight

The area pulls in revenues of around $15 billion per year, which is particularly impressive since the district covers only about a square mile. Even when you consider that high rise buildings contain 1.1 million square feet of workspace, it’s still a lot of income for a relatively small area.

This small one-mile block houses the biggest center for fashion in the world and wields incredible influence. Come see it for yourself when you stay at the Manhattan NYC. You can show support for a home-grown New York industry, indulge in some well-dressed history, and update your wardrobe, all at the same time!

(Image credits: Wally Gobetz/flickr; Davepape/Wikipedia; m01229/flickr)