The word “alliance” evokes images of protective brethren. The Garment District Alliance of New York (GDA) is just that. Led by Barbara Blair Randall, the GDA team operates on 38th Street in Midtown Manhattan with the goal of preserving and promoting the district through beautification, attracting new and unique tenants (while avoiding all things “big box”) and caring for existing district businesses. Alliance’s like this one are a result of business development partnerships and multiple NYC mayors working over the past two decades to ensure that each historically unique neighborhood in New York is defended and promoted. There are dozens of neighborhood alliances (including those for Times Square and Brooklyn).
Garment and TAMI Businesses Growing
Resources for the GDA’s work come from neighborhood tenants and owners. The GDA expects the future of The Garment District to look like a calico of American industry. Businesses moving in to the neighborhood at the fastest rate now are TAMI businesses (Technology, Advertising, Media and Information). While garment district heritage purists may lament the lessened prominence of actual garment production in the neighborhood, Randall believes that the people now operating businesses there embody the same principles which made it a creative industry Mecca in the first place during the quick rise of the American fashion industry in the 1940’s and 50’s.
The highly skilled workers behind the success of the Garment Districts initial boom were new to the United States when they started out, while today’s successful Garment District business owner might be a second or third generation national who is returning to their family roots, and who has been well trained in their creative industry’s skill set. Perhaps not all of today’s garment district professionals make garments, but they are creating for a living. They are creating the images, blogs, sites and product. They are living the history and energy of the neighborhood and contributing to it in a new way.
Focusing on the future of the Garment District doesn’t always mean looking away from garment production. Ms. Blair Randall points out that exciting garment-related history is still being made. She is particularly pleased, for example, to mention that hat designer Satya Twena’s own “Kickstarter” campaign for the purpose of saving one of the few remaining millinery factories in the garment district was successful.
Exciting new food and beverage options in the neighborhood include alternatives to common chain coffee houses, each worth a visit. Cafe Culture, Cafe Grumpy and Gregory’s are examples. Pubs abound, in contrasting partnership to new and sought after concepts like Tir Na Nog, Parker and Quinn, and the soon-to-be-announced new restaurant inside the Archer Hotel New York. Visitors to the neighborhood should stop in and visit at least one of the 400+ fabric shops, like Mood Fabrics, and the many trim shops (buttons, notions, etc.) which are thriving.
The garment district has much visual potential. Ms. Blair Randall points out that the neighborhood has several plaza areas which will, with the help of some well placed outdoor seating and urban landscape, soon become inviting public space. Her ideal for the district includes multiple stretches of storefronts enhanced for pedestrian traffic with the employ of better window-front presentation as the neighborhood continues its regrowth. Also, before heading home or through to another borough, Ms. Randall urges visitors to slow down and
“Look up!: The architectural details on many of the buildings in this neighborhood are absolutely stunning. Take a bit of time and examine them. It’s the kind of thing you won’t notice if you keep your head down and hustle too quickly through the (garment) district.”
Garment District Future
So, facing the future and the reality that many of the new businesses interested in or already succeeding in the garment district are non-garment industry groups, Barbara Blair Randall and the team at the GDA remain absolute fans and protectors of all that was good in the district’s past as they work on revitalizing public space in the neighborhood, encouraging businesses to include aesthetics for passersby in their business designs, and supporting local industry events. The Garment District Alliance is a protective brethren, to be sure. Along with defense of the past, they plan for and promote a positive future for all industries interested in becoming one of the neighbors in the garment district.
Follow this blog to read more about new and existing garment industry businesses in The New York Garment District. Visit the Archer Hotel New York to stay with a neighbor while in Midtown Manhattan.
The Garment District Alliance website is an excellent resource for visitors. It offers a searchable website for local businesses and information on how to find events, walking tour guides, and specific shops.