GARMENT DISTRICT — When photographer Payal Parikh learned about the city’s controversial plan to rezone the Garment District and encourage current businesses there to relocate to Brooklyn, she set out to document the area as a “neutral observer.”
But impartiality proved difficult after she heard manufacturers and shop owners speak out against the proposal at a forum in April.
Critics have argued the plan — which includes eliminating preservation rules for manufacturing in the Special Garment Center District and enticing businesses to Sunset Park — could “devastate” an already fragile industry.
Many of the small business owners who attended the forum said they wouldn’t survive the move to Sunset Park, said Parikh, 34.
“I heard all these things, and my heart really [went] out to these people,” the Brooklyn-based photographer said. “And I felt that I had to tell their stories, because a lot of people don’t know that this is going on.”
Since mid-April, Parikh has been snapping portraits of costume designers, fabric-flower and -feather manufacturers, theatrical milliners, and a host of other Garment District-based business owners and employees.
Coco Dupont, of Cygnet Studios, with a ballet costume in progress for the principal dancer of the American Ballet Theater's production of "Swan Lake." (Credit: Payal Parikh)
After some of her images were displayed in a storefront gallery operated by the nonprofit arts group chashama in May and June, Parikh wasn’t ready to put her camera away.
“I could have stopped, but I felt invested in the project at this point,” she said.
Many of the shops Parikh has documented are "hidden gems that people don’t know about," she explained.
A worker at family-owned M. & S. Schmalberg assembles fabric flowers by hand. (Credit: Payal Parikh)
Parikh herself discovered shops and studios while seeking out subjects to photograph.
“If I was in Midtown, I tended to avoid [the Garment District before], because I didn’t need to be there, but working on this project has changed my viewpoint completely,” she said. “I see what an ecosystem it is, and how much [businesses] rely on each other — how well they know each other, how important it is to the city.”
She hopes her portraits call attention to a “critical moment in New York City history.”
George Kalajian with his father, Leon, of Tom’s Sons International Pleating. (Credit: Payal Parikh)
"Either this project could change minds, or I’m documenting a neighborhood that could very well start disappearing in three years, and potentially be gone in 10 years,” Parikh said.
“My hope is obviously that it’s the former — that it changes minds, and it doesn’t disappear.”