If you could travel back 80 or even 50 years, nearly everything you’d be wearing would have come from New York’s Garment District. At that time hundreds of businesses and tens of thousands of workers were jammed into just a few square blocks of Manhattan, pumping steam out the windows from the heavy-duty pressing machinery.

In its heyday, steam poured out of the windows in the Garment District.
Garment workers, 1937
[Photo: Andrew Herman-Federal Art Project/Museum of the City of New York]

Decline of the Garment District
According to non-profit Save the Garment Center, the District at one time had 7.7 million square space preserved for apparel manufacturing and housed 105,000 manufacturing jobs. Over the past 50 years, clothing production in New York has declined steadily. Today the center contains only 1.1 million square feet of garment manufacturing space and employs 7,100 factory workers.

Efforts to Revive the District
By the early 1980s, garment manufacturing had largely moved overseas, and the District’s future was seriously in question. The City of New York launched its first efforts to preserve the Garment District in 1987.

In 2018 the City annnounced new tax incentives to clothing manufacturers that located in the Garment District. They will also help ensure affordable, long-term commercial leases for these companies. The plan also includes a cap on hotel development in the area.

Last summer a member of our Advisory Board, Barbara Kelly, and one of our staff, Shana McCracken, toured the Garment District as part of a program of the Textile Arts Council.

Here are a few pictures from their trip:

Members of the Textile Arts Council toured the Garment District last summer. Board member Barbara Kelly is seen 2nd from the left and Shana McCracken is pictured 3rd from left. Center back is a bronze statue of a garment worker from the District’s glory days.
A giant button and sewing needle mark the center of the District.
The Walk of Fame, highlighting some of the many famous designers who have been located in the Garment District over the years, is worth slowing down for.

Find more information about New York’s Garment District here.

2 comments

  • Why is the garment worker statue a man? I know there were many men involved in the garment industry, but weren’t most of the factory workers who sat in front of sewing machines women?

    • I don’t know what the proportions were, but I know there were a large number of men working in the District as well as women. Our tour guide told us the statue looked just like his dad who sewed furs in the Garment District. Hope that’s helpful!?

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