The New York City Garment District

on October 17 | in Sewing Inspiration, Sewing Trends | by | with 8 Comments

Who else is super-excited about the season finale of Project Runway tonight?! If you wish yourself into the shots of Mood in New York City every time the contestants shop, you’ll love today’s post about the NYC Garment District by Rebecca Frey. Rebecca is a costume designer and wardrobe stylist with more than twelve years of experience in the entertainment industry. She holds an M.F.A. in Costume Design from Carnegie Mellon University and is also a licensed New York City Sightseeing Guide with a specific interest in the city’s garment and retail industries. Rebecca is the owner/founder of Seek, a New York City-based company which provides costume design and styling services, as well as tourist-oriented shopping and fashion history tours.

For more information about Rebecca’s work and tours, visit www.seeknewyorkllc.com or www.seeknewyorktours.com. You can also connect with Seek on Facebook and follow them on Twitter.
LineBreak
Several years ago I had the opportunity to work as a “shopper” for the Metropolitan Opera, one of the largest and busiest union costume shops in New York City. All day, every day, I swatched, sourced and purchased fabrics (as well as other things like trims, notions, beads, buttons and crystals), spending 90% of my time within the borders of the New York Garment District.

For first-time visitors to New York City, the term “Garment District” can be something of a misnomer. People hear “garment” and expect to find streets lined with clothing retailers, but with the exception of West 34th Street (which creates the southern border of the neighborhood, and also serves as a “main drag” for shopping in midtown), very few clothing stores make their home within its boundaries. In truth, the Garment District (also referred to as the Garment Center, Fashion Center or Fashion District) is best described as the heart of the fashion industry in NYC.

At its earliest beginnings, the city’s garment industry was primarily a home-based business, with immigrant workers taking in piecework which could be done in their tenement apartments on the Lower East Side. During the Civil War, the need for military uniforms kicked production into high gear. The war, along with the increasing demand for ready-made garments instead of custom-tailored clothing, necessitated a shift to loft factory manufacturing, much of which took place along Fifth Avenue. And when a 1916 zoning regulation forced garment lofts to relocate, the modern Garment District began to emerge on the west side of midtown Manhattan between 34th to 42nd Streets, where it remains to this day.

While most clothing worn in the United States is now produced overseas, the Garment District remains crucial to the business of American fashion, with the headquarters or branch offices of countless fashion labels located on and around “Fashion Avenue.” And with the exception of a few holdouts on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, almost all of the city’s fabric, trim and notions stores are located in the Garment District. The area also plays home to numerous sample makers, theatrical costume shops, pleaters, tailors, patternmakers, fabric and leather wholesalers, button makers, and countless other industry suppliers, as well as wholesale clothing companies and designer showrooms. Through my work as a costume designer, I’ve developed an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the resources in the neighborhood, and have built relationships with many of the salespeople and business owners that make the garment industry tick.

Fabric shopping in New York can be an overwhelming experience for out-of-towners, especially since the stores are quite different from suburban craft and fabric chains. My company, Seek, offers guided tours of the Garment District which are designed to introduce visitors to the ins and outs of fabric shopping in NYC. In addition to their familiarity with things like store layouts, swatching procedures and yardage minimums, Seek guides (all of whom are also working costume or fashion designers) can offer shopping advice, like which store is best for fine silks and which one has the biggest selection of printed cottons.

Amid streets bustling with designers and with racks of clothing whizzing by, tour participants experience firsthand what it’s like to be a part of the New York garment industry. And since everybody– from professional designers to fashion students to home seamstresses– utilizes the same sources, it’s not uncommon to bump into a costume designer putting the finishing touches on a Broadway show, or meet an assistant swatching for a major fashion house. In addition to fabric shopping, tour participants learn the history of the garment industry and see important neighborhood landmarks like the Fashion Walk of Fame, the famous “Needle Threading a Button” statue, and Project Runway locations like Parsons and Bryant Park.

Planning a trip to New York? Are you looking for more info on tours? Seek offers weekly group tours of the NYC Garment District as well as private Garment District tours for those who’d prefer a more intimate experience. Now through December, readers are invited to enter MAMA in the discount field at checkout to receive an exclusive 10% discount on a private or public Garment District tour.

Tell us about your Garment District experiences in the comments! Our Super Online Sewing Mach grand prize winner did a bunch of her fabric shopping for the contest in the Garment District… Have you toured? Have you bought fabric, trim, buttons and more? Are you planning a “some day” trip to New York City?!

Pin It

Related Posts

8 Responses to The New York City Garment District

  1. Connie J says:

    A few years ago, my husband sent me and a friend to NYC for a long weekend. We spent the entire time going from store to store that we had learned about on various sewing blogs. A tour would have been ideal. I am sure we missed a quite a few gems that are word of mouth places. Next time we will certainly look into a tour!

  2. Marthes says:

    Your tour would be a wonderful first hand insight into the garment district. Enjoyed the write up!

  3. Samina says:

    Thanks Rebecca, for sharing your experiences in working in the Garment District! In my younger days this was my dream job — to work within the fashion and sewing worlds. Did not happen :)
    Enjoyed this post. I’ve visited the garment section in NY a couple of times but just did not spend enough time to explore.

  4. Nikki says:

    I LOOOOOOVE the garment district! I’ve only spent one day there but easily came across more beautiful fabric than I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s delicious sensory overload. I am normally a very focused person, but when I went to Mood I had major ADHD. It was like “Oooh that’s pretty. But ooh ooh look at that!” for a solid hour before I made up my mind about a single piece of fabric. My favorite place in the garment district was Metro Textiles. It’s a small room jam packed with quality fabric at awesome prices and amazing personalized service by the owner. If I ever go back to NYC I have about 10 other fabric stores on my list that I didn’t have time to check out the first time.

  5. Alana says:

    I LOVE THE GARMENT DISTRICT! I’m only sad that I don’t live in NYC anymore and that I only really started sewing recently. Can’t beat the notions and trimmings stores. Online shopping in the meantime has become easy and reliable, but nothing beats going to an actual store and feeling fabric and looking at the variety :)

  6. Suzanne says:

    Very much enjoyed this article and the photos. It’s wonderful that Seek exists.

  7. It’s been years since I traveled to NYC to walk the garment district when I was a swimwear designer. I rarely went to shops like Mood or M&J Trimmings but rather spent most of my time either in our showroom or going to fabric vendor appointments. How much would I love to go there again on a personal fabric shopping trip!

  8. Irelle says:

    I would love to do that tour of the Garment District. I have to add that to my bucket list!!! Thanks for the article – very informative!

« »

Subscribe to the sewmamasew.com newsletter

Sewing inspiration, projects, events and offers delivered conveniently to your email.

SUBSCRIBE +

Get the latest sewmamasew.com news via