HOST INTRO: New York is home to lots of districts – The Diamond District, the Flower District, the Financial District. And then there’s the Garment District, which spans from 34th to 42nd Street between Sixth and Ninth Avenue. During the 1980s, around 30,000 people worked there. Today, that number’s around 5,000. And now the region known by many as the creative hub of the fashion industry, is facing another hurdle – rezoning. Melissa Caceres reports.
CACERES 1: Teddy Sadaka has been in the clothing business since he was a teenager in the 1970s – back when his parents started Apparel Production Incorporated – this factory — on 39th street. And Sadaka says blood, sweat and tears have gone into it — Literally.
I have this scar on my finger right here, you see this scar here?
CACERES 2: He points to a thin white line on his right hand.
That’s a needle that went into my finger.
CACERES 3: When he was 15, Sadaka was sewing a button on some fabric and he stuck his finger with a long needle.
So I pulled it out, threw it on the floor and I cursed my brains out. But I put a bandaid on it and went back to putting buttons on.
CACERES 4: Now, he owns the factory. Sadaka greets one of the dozen or so chinese seamstresses.
Ni hao, Ni hao
CACERES 5: He walks past the rows of machinery to get to the only machine that’s idle.
This is a shoulder pad machine that’s only for jackets. So it’s sitting here waiting for a jacket order.
CACERES 6: It might be a while. New York City is proposing to rezone Garment District and allow different business to come in. Sadaka’s sister and co-owner Karen Sadaka says to the garment workers, the city’s attempt to restructure is aggressive.
The real bottom line is they’re looking to take our real estate. Put it into offices, condos, whatever it is and take the industry and basically eliminate it.
CACERES 7: But at a recent hearing, city planners say they’re not trying to push anyone out. They say they want to diversify the area. Elliot Sclar is a professor of urban planning at Columbia. He says now more than ever, space in Manhattan is scarce and it makes sense the city would be looking for ways to bring in wealthier businesses.
Because of this fiscal pressure and because of the fact that the only thing the city has left that it can really leverage and sell is upzoning.
CACERES 8: And Sclar says the Garment District faces more pressures and not just from the city. The District has been losing jobs overseas for years.
Most of the mass produced garments, they’ll have been made in Pakistan, India, the Philippines, you name it. The low wage end of that and the mass production of garments has disappeared.
CACERES 9: He says what New York has maintained is the connection to high-end fashion. And city is offering garment companies lease space in Brooklyn. But that would mean being far away from local designers.
Hi, I’m Katie Lares and I’m a handbag designer.
CACERES 9: Lares sells her bags through a luxury designer collective in lower Manhattan called Flying Solo. She says she relies on the Garment District for pretty much all of her supplies. And it helps to have everything in one place.
Most of our days are spent zig-zagging through the Garment District. Like, we’re in the factory making something, we have to go get a thread, we go to Soul Thread. We have to get some hardware, we go to Botani. And that’s what the whole day is like.
CACERES 10: Having everything nearby, that’s a district. Back at Apparel Production, Teddy Sadaka looks over one of his workers sewing layers of fabric together. He says he just likes the sound of the machines.
That’s sound is money. I guess to every farmer it’s the same thing. When he hears –mooing sound – When he hears the cow mooing, that’s money for him. So that’s money for me.
CACERES 11: And Sadaka says he hopes he can keep his business afloat no matter what ends up happening with the rezoning. Melissa Caceres, Columbia Radio News.