On Seventh Avenue, between 39th and 40th Street, a 31-foot stainless steel needle stands: It rests on its 2-foot eye that pierces a woven steel swatch of fabric in the sidewalk, and points upward to a 14-foot button that it pins. The display, designed by Pentagram Architectural Services in 1996, and inspired by Claes Oldenburg’s sculptures, leans atop the Fashion Center Information Kiosk. Standing there, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that you’re in the Garment District.
However, without the oversized clue this art provides, you might not be able to tell at all.
Much has changed in the Garment District, which occupies roughly 32 square blocks of the west side, between 34th and 42nd Streets. In the 1850’s, a time when most people made their own clothes, or had them custom made, the Garment District created a new industry of ready-made clothing. The commercial opportunity resulted from the sad economics of the Civil War era – large numbers of immigrants in New York were put to work, mass producing cheap clothing for slaves in the south. It was more productive to devote slave labor to the business of the plantation than to the making of their own clothes. The industry grew rapidly and countless warehouses, offices and factories sprung up (not just in the Garment District, but other areas of the city as well) to support the industry. By 1910, ready made clothing suited the nation at large, with New York manufacturing 40% of men’s clothing and 70% of women’s clothing in the United States. The fashion district teemed with men pushing racks of clothing through the streets.
Today, few racks are rolling. The industry has fallen into deep decline. While the fashion industry is still important in New York City, accounting for 4.6% of nationwide fashion employment, manufacturing jobs have moved off-shore. Despite special zoning laws designed to keep manufacturers in place, much of the real estate is now residential or office space – notably the new New York Times Tower stands in the place of a building, now demolished, that once housed garment industry businesses. In an effort to revitalize the industry a 2010 Municipal Arts Society initiative showcased the competitive advantages of manufacturing in Midtown to encourage new creative enterprises to return and re-thread the needle.
— Carol Cofone
|1800||Rise of Garment Industry in New York|
|1910||40% of men’s clothing and 70% of women’s clothing produced in New York|
|1960||Decline of the Garment District|
|1996||Fashion Center Information Kiosk designed by Pentagram Architectural Services|