High Rents Force Brooklyn-Based Fashion Network into Garment District

By Heather Holland on January 27, 2014 7:00am 

Slideshow
 High rents in Brooklyn pushed Manufacture New York to open its first fashion incubator in Midtown instead.
Manufacture New York
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MIDTOWN — A Brooklyn-based fashion networking company has been priced out of its borough — forced to take up space instead in Manhattan's garment district.

Manufacture New York's founder Bob Bland spent months searching Brooklyn for an affordable spot to set up the company's first incubator space.

Eventually she found the perfect place — in Midtown.

Manufacture New York launched the Garment Center Pilot Program last fall at 23 W. 36th St., bringing industrial sewing machines and high-tech design software to serve 15 up-and-coming designers, most of whom are from Brooklyn.

"We are committed to Brooklyn, but it's quite expensive," Bland said of her hop across the East River to open the incubator. "We're not saying prices are out of control in Brooklyn, but maybe they are."

Manufacture New York will ultimately return to Brooklyn — the Midtown space is just a temporary venture while the organization develops a 160,000-square-foot headquarters in Sunset Park’s Liberty View Industrial Plaza, complete with studios, a showroom and a factory.

That project is still awaiting funding, which Bland hopes to secure from the city and other sources this year.

In the meantime, the organization opened the Midtown pilot, which is hosting an eight-day Fashion Week event starting Tuesday where the young designers will be able to show and sell their collections.

"[The incubator] has been incredibly successful," Bland said. "Most of the designers are from Brooklyn, and they're doing some wonderful, beautiful designs."

She started her search for an incubator space in the fall of 2012 after the network of Brooklyn designers formed Manufacture New York and raised $60,000 through crowd-funding site Indiegogo.

Bland had her sights set on the Atlantic Avenue corridor, running through Boerum Hill and Prospect Heights, where she hoped to score a space at a reasonable price.

“[Atlantic Avenue] has good foot traffic, a lot of subways, beautiful spaces and a lot of up-and-coming designer boutiques,” she said.

“And we’re a start-up business. We have to go where the cheap space is."

But Bland quickly realized that the neighborhoods were beyond her reach, with 1,200-square-foot retail spaces going for $3,000 to $5,000.

“There were plenty of open storefronts but they were still selling them at a premium in anticipation of Barclays,” Bland said of the massive sports complex and performance venue that opened in the fall of 2012.

As a last resort, Bland and her business partner Nelis Parts took their search to Manhattan and began looking at second-floor spaces.

"My business partner was literally walking down the street, taking down numbers and calling them," Bland said. "He was doing it completely old school, and just happened to find a beautiful, second-floor space in the Garment District. We completely lucked out."

The Midtown incubator, on West 36th Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues, is about 2,000 square feet and the rent is less than $2,500 per month, according to Bland. She was able to get such a good deal by promising to make capital improvements to the space, she said.

“That sort of opportunity, even with those caveats — we weren’t finding them in Brooklyn,” she said.

The new space, which opened last September, has room for 15 designers, with sewing and ironing equipment, cutting machines, a conference room and computers. The idea is to give independent designers a place to develop their fashion lines and meet with clients, Bland said.

“[The Midtown location] is a mini version of the actual project [in Sunset Park],” Bland said. “We’ve already incubated our first 15 designers, and they’re already completing their fall collections. Their [fashion] lines have moved very quickly.”

The designers will be selling their fall collections during an eight-day Fashion Week event called LaunchNYC from Jan. 28 through Feb. 2. The event, which includes designer showcases and runway shows, will take place at 55 W. 17th St. Visit launchnyc.co for more information.

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