When it comes to fashion Manhattan is arguably the center of the universe. The fashion industry in the Big Apple generates $14 billion annually and the trends that begin here ripple around the globe. Of course if NYC is the center of the universe there must be a giant zipper running along 7th Avenue. Most of the City’s major fashion labels call the Garment District home, including Calvin Klein, Liz Claiborne and Carolina Herrera, to name just a few. From showrooms to production and support offices, the Garment District is chock-full of design powerhouses that lead the world down the runway.
In the early years tailors in the Garment District made clothes for sailors and western prospectors and did a brisk business all year long. At the turn of the century the Garment District, which runs from 12th Avenue to 5th and from 34th Street to 39th, was the largest single clothing manufacturing district in the world.
7th Avenue runs directly through the heart of the Garment District and, since 1972, the thoroughfare has been affectionately referred to as ‘Fashion Avenue’ due to the large number of designers whose showrooms and offices can be found there. Intersecting with Broadway and 42nd Street at Times Square and 34th St at Penn Station, 7th Ave and the Garment District encompass a large section of the grid. And you would be hard pressed to find another street or avenue anywhere in the world with such an enormous collection of design houses. Also noteworthy, just south of Penn Station are the aspiring designers of tomorrow at the Fashion Institute of Technology at 7th and 27th.
In 1995 the Fashion Center Information Kiosk opened its doors, making it much easier for anyone looking to track down and locate local companies and offices. The city’s first fully staffed walk-in information center, it provides valuable info about product sourcing and industry related services to professionals and students alike, as well as the occasional fashionista and the errant shopaholic. Striking in its design, the structure of the kiosk incorporates the world’s largest button and is held in place by a 31 foot steel needle, a fitting landmark.
The manufacturing of clothing in the United States began to wane in the late 20th century, as was evident in New York City where the industry began losing well over a thousand factory jobs per year. Gone are the days when the streets were jammed with workers pushing racks of garments from one workshop to another - although you do still see them from time to time. Many of the factories that once bustled with life are now leased as office space. The high-end fashion design houses persevere today but long gone are the massive clothing manufactures of yesteryear.
Nevertheless The Garment District and Fashion Avenue live on, in song and in story. From Simon & Garfunkel’s The Boxer to The Rolling Stones Shattered, 7th Avenue has been venerated many times. At the movies and on TV you can always find a great reference to the famed 7th, and there is even a permanent sculpture located at 555 7th Ave called simply ‘The Garment Worker’. The 8 foot bronze sculpture, created by artist Judith Weller, depicts an unnamed man busy at work on his sewing machine. A fitting tribute to the men and women who made this once strictly manufacturing area of Manhattan one of the most prolific in the world, ‘The Garment Worker‘ will forever remind passersby of the roots of not only a neighborhood but America industry.
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