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Long Island City Becoming the New Fashion District, Experts Say

 Clothing company Madewell recently moved its flagship offices to The Factory building on 47th Avenue in Long Island City.
Clothing company Madewell recently moved its flagship offices to The Factory building on 47th Avenue in Long Island City.
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Getty Images/Andrew H. Walker

LONG ISLAND CITY — Queens is making its mark on the fashion world, as more clothing and style-related companies are setting up shop in Long Island City — from big-name brands like Ralph Lauren and Barneys to photography and commercial studios.

The neighborhood offers large, industrial spaces and a short commute for companies at a cheaper price than traditional fashion hubs in Manhattan or Brooklyn, experts say.

"A lot of our tenants that have been coming in, a lot of the newer uses, have been fashion and art," said Jay Fehskens, a commercial asset manager with Atlas Capital Group, which runs The Factory, a former furniture warehouse-turned-office complex on 47th Avenue and 31st Street.

Since the developer took over the building in early 2014, they've leased office space to well-known fashion brands like Macy's, Ralph Lauren, Gwynnie Bee and most recently Madewell, a division of J. Crew.

"We were delightfully surprised with fashion relocating from the traditional fashion areas, bringing their photography studios, the design groups, even some light manufacturing," said Fehskens.

He spoke alongside several other industry insiders Thursday during a panel on the role of fashion in the neighborhood at Long Island City Partnership's annual LIC Summit.

"What has really changed is the dynamics in where people live and how people view Long Island City," he said. "It's no longer a true back-office market."

New additions to the area join longtime fashion companies like Brooks Brothers, which has been in Long Island City for 30 years, operating a factory on Skillman Avenue where it makes 1.5 million neckties annually.

"It's a great location, especially for film and fashion people," said Carrie White, the owner of GUM Studios, which hosts high-fashion commercial and photo shoots for clients like Louis Vuitton.

She moved to her current 21,000-square-foot location on Borden Avenue in Hunters Point a little over a year ago from Williamsburg, and says the area is ideal for its proximity to Manhattan and easy transportation access.

"It's literally one stop on the 7 train from Grand Central," she said during Thursday's panel. "We're right by the Water Taxi, the Queens Midtown Tunnel, the Pulaski Bridge, the Queensboro Bridge."

Space in Long Island City is also still a relative bargain, according to Fehskens — with rents going for about $40 per square foot in some commercial buildings compared to $60, $70 or $80 per square foot in Manhattan.

The neighborhood's industrial buildings also offer high ceilings and ample space that can't easily be found in other neighborhoods, he added.

"They realize they can get to anywhere they want to very quickly, they start seeing the great bones that we all have in buildings out here, which is something that’s relatively hard to find," Fehskens said.

It was the need for more space that drove Barneys New York to Long Island City. The company moved into a building on 46th Avenue near the waterfront last year, where they build full-scale window installations for their Madison Avenue store.

"We actually needed a very large space with great access, within a sort of reasonable distance [of Manhattan]," Dennis Freedman, Barneys' creative director, said during Thursday's panel. "We were finding it incredibly difficult to find a space that worked for us."

He found it in Hunters Point, where he says their current location offers a 20-minute commute to Midtown as well as creative inspiration.

"It's a space that not only allows us to do what we have to do, but it's inspiring because we're literally looking at the skyline of New York City from our studios," he said.