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Designer Nanette Lepore Wants Garment District Preserved

By DNAinfo Staff on February 18, 2010 12:10pm  | Updated on February 18, 2010 12:28pm

By Nicole Breskin

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

BRYANT PARK — Minutes before she debuted her Fall 2010 line at Fashion Week on Wednesday, Nanette Lepore was backstage lining up her models for the runway, ensuring that their every hair was in place.

In between the hustle and bustle, she took the time to tell DNAinfo about the importance of preserving the Garment District, a stretch of Manhattan real estate that had been a fashion manufacturing hub since the early 20th century and is now in danger of being lost to history.

Lepore and other top designers, including Diane Von Furstenberg and Michael Kors, say the area is threatened by soaring rents and the trend of manufacturing moving overseas.

“When I first got involved with saving the Garment District, it was purely selfish because I do most of my manufacturing here and I was panicked,” said Lepore, wearing a sequined skirt she designed and produced herself in the district. “I find a lot of advantages to working here.”

Lepore said 85 percent of clothing she manufactures comes out of New York City, which allows her to have immediate quality control and quick production turn-around with her clothes.

But the Garment District is shrinking. In the 1950s and 1960s, some 95 percent of clothing sold in the United States was made locally. Now it’s down to 5 percent.

Robert Savage, Lepore’s husband and the president of her company, said retaining the Garment District is critical because it provides jobs and promotes the work of young designers in Manhattan.

“It’s about good paying, skilled jobs,” he said. “Factories are also able to do a smaller run of pieces for young designers trying to start up businesses. Without the Garment District, we will lose the future of American designers.”

As a young Fashion Institute of Technology student, Lepore said she was inspired by her visits to neighborhood fabric stores and suppliers.

When she launched her own company in the East Village, she relied on the district to bring to life the clothes she thought up.

Her current line — inspired by the idea of the Renaissance woman — also depends on the Garment District’s handiwork to make the garments a reality.

“The industry is so political and so careful about every step," said Erica Wolf, who is on the board of Save The Garment Center, a neighborhood advocacy group, "it’s really impressive that Nanette took the time out before the show to promote the message.”

Alina Ismailova, one of Lepore’s models, was impressed that the clothes she was wearing were made just a few blocks away.

“They are very beautiful clothes,” said Ismailova. “Wow, I didn’t know they were made in New York City.”