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Op-Ed: The American Dream—Apparel Style

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On this July 4, 2015, it is a good time for Americans to be patriotic and think of things close to home. Just for a moment, put aside TPP, AGOA and foreign retailers like Uniqlo and H&M who are battling for retail dollars on American soil. What was the American Dream in our early days of 1776? And where are we today?

The American Dream is a national ethos of the United States. It is a set of ideals in which freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success, and an upward social mobility for the family and children, gained through hard work in a society with few barriers. According to American writer and historian James Truslow Adams’ definition of the American Dream in 1931, “life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement” regardless of social class or circumstances of birth.

Today, the apparel industry again has America on its mind. This year I have been an exhibitor at textile trade shows in Shanghai, Paris, Barcelona and New York City. At all the foreign trade shows combined, I only met one start-up company, but in New York, I meet at least 10 start-ups each day—with visions of new denim brands, product developments and yoga lines.

Generations ago immigrants arrived in New York to fulfill their American Dreams, and many were involved in the textile and apparel trades. Today, the fashion industry employs 180,000 people, accounting for 6 percent of the city’s workforce and generating $10.9 billion in total wages with tax revenues of $2 billion, according to the New York City Economic Development Council (NYCEDC). An estimated 900 fashion companies are headquartered in the city, and as of 2012 there were 13,800 fashion establishments here.

New York City remains the fashion capital of the U.S. and Made in NYC has a strong momentum.

In February, Mayor Bill de Blasio expanded programs to support the New York fashion industry by tripling the investment in the sector from $5 to $15 million. The funds will go toward a marketing campaign, website development of madeinnycfashion.nyc, capital and workforce grants, production summit and design initiatives.

I recently attended an open assembly at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) on the capital and workforce grants for New York factories as a part of the Fashion Manufacturing Initiative coordinated by Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) and NYCEDC. Local factories are not only the heritage of New York, they also provide the steps for the American dream of new apparel businesses.

The program’s initial aim was to improve technology by providing grants to upgrade factories with new equipment. During the assembly, New York factories voiced their real estate needs as some are battling against hotel developers and higher rent office space for reasonable rents in garment center buildings.

Mayor De Blasio is not only supporting NYC and the apparel industry with funding, he also recognizes the week of July 20 as NYC Textile Week, where three major trade show, Kingpins, Texworld USA and MRket will take place.

“New York’s fashion and design industries are vital to our city’s economy, generating billions of dollars in annual wages and employing thousands of New Yorkers. We are committed to supporting these industries and ensuring they can continue to thrive, and that is why we are delighted to host top designers, manufacturers, and buyers for this year’s Textile Week,” De Blasio said in a statement.

What is the American Dream of the future for the apparel industry? It is clearly not more fast fashion, cheap T-shirts and jeans, because we know the human and environmental costs for such nominally-priced products.

According to an American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA) study, Americans buy, on average, 64 garments per year and spend $907 to buy them. This works out to $14.17 per garment. Apparel deflation endures. We need to move away from price first and go back to pioneering the ideas that change our industry.

How will the apparel sector address social responsibility? What about environmental concerns in the future? Are we integrating technology and innovation as well as other industries? Are we still working in the same ways as we did 20 years ago?

Get inspired. One of the highlights of NYC Textile week this month will be the Ideas for Change forum. The first annual event came about from concern that the textile and apparel trade has not changed over time while other consumer industries like film, music and literature, have undergone dramatic metamorphoses. Ideas for Change will be held on July 24 at FIT with speakers addressing topics from future consumer needs to technology in textiles to government support. To be a part of the progress, click here for more info.

So, to my fellow Americans as we celebrate July 4, let’s keep the American Dream alive for the next generation—one of prosperity and success, with a life richer and fuller for everyone.

 

Tricia CareyTricia Carey, director of business development apparel for denim at Lenzing Fibers, has a Bachelor’s degree in Fashion Merchandising from the Fashion Institute of Technology and Marywood University. Tricia has held positions in fabric sales and business development. Seventeen years ago she started with Courtaulds Fibers NY to focus on marketing of a new fiber,  Tencel. When Lenzing Fibers acquired Tencel Inc in 2004, Tricia continued as USA Merchandising Manager for Womenswear.  She is also on the Textile Exchange Board of Directors, FIT Textile Department Advisory Board and founding partner of NYC Textile Week.

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