MANHATTAN — I ♥ El Salvador?
New T-shirts, ordered by the city's marketing agency and set to debut at popular retailer Aéropostale Thursday, feature iconic New York agencies like the NYPD, FDNY, NYC Taxi & Limousine Commission and Parks & Recreation.
But they don't bear tags saying "Made in the U.S.A."
Instead, the limited-edition shirts, which cost $9 online, are manufactured in Central America.
When NYC & Company, the official marketing and tourism agency for the city, brokered its first ever "retail marketing partnership" with Aéropostale for the collection, it did not consider where the T-shirts were being produced.
"The licensee producing the product arranges for sourcing. In this case, that's C-Life Group," a spokeswoman for NYC & Company said, referring to the apparel company headquartered in the city's fashion district that was involved in the deal that targets "fashion-forward" teens between the ages of 14 and 17.
Many advocates for the city's clothing manufacturers called it a missed opportunity to promote the city's struggling garment industry.
"There are factories in the five boroughs that can make T-shirts," said Erica Wolf, executive director of Save the Garment Center, a trade association that promotes NYC-based garment manufacturing.
"We still have the labor and the skill set to make T-shirts in this country. It is painful we're not giving any work to the city, especially when the shirts represent the city."
There are 24,000 apparel manufacturing jobs in New York City, according to the five-year-old, grassroots organization's campaign. Though the group is trying to position Midtown as the place for high-end clothing production, Wolf — who also works for designer Nanette Lepore, a staunch garment center supporter — said it still wanted to promote manufacturing in other parts of the city and country.
"Wouldn't it be even better if the T-shirts were made here? How cool would that be?" Wolf said.
"This is a lost opportunity for the city to model the way to convince other designers to bring work back to New York," noted Adam Friedman, director of the Pratt Center for Community Development which runs a "Made in NYC" initiative to help local manufacturers.
"Hopefully, that decision can be reversed."
The T-shirts will be sold for the next four weeks — and perhaps longer, if they're successful — at select Aéropostale stores in the U.S. and Canada, according to NYC & Company. The clothing chain will devote a portion of its proceeds to the NYPD Foundation and the FDNY Foundation.
The foundations will get 70 percent of the royalties, with the other 30 percent going to the operating costs for the program, a spokeswoman said.
"You're using New York to promote something and yet bring business elsewhere?" asked Gary Wassner, co-CEO of Hildun Corporation, which provides financial services to manufacturers and importers.
"They could do it here," he added. "Maybe it would cost a couple of dollars more. I feel it would be more important to say 'Made in New York,' and they could promote that as well."
Several advocates noted that the federal government, for instance, requires military uniforms be made in the U.S.
But Anthony Lilore, who runs RESTORE, a clothing company that makes eco-friendly T-shirts in New York, withheld judgment.
"I think this can be attacked as easily as it can be praised," Lilore said. "It's good that money is being given to the foundations."
He said that a plain white T-shirt from El Salvador could cost $1.09 plus roughly $1.25 for printing as part of a large order. For T-shirts made here, they would cost roughly $6 to manufacture and print, he said.
"Could we do a $9 T-shirt? No," Lilore said. "A $15 T-shirt? Yes."
Andrew Ward, the executive director of sourcing and designer development for the nonprofit Garment Industry Development Corporation, wasn't too outraged.
"I obviously prefer them to make it here, but we have other areas we want to focus on," he said, referring to more high-paying, high-end work in the city. "We're not going to compete with El Salvador or China or elsewhere at the end of the day."