After joining the effort to produce much-needed supplies for the pandemic response, three members of NYC’s fashion community share their thoughts on the future of the industry.
As part of the All In NYC campaign highlighting the city's resilience as it reemerges, rebuilds, and reopens, we're sharing the stories of the people and businesses that make NYC special.
COVID-19 has had a significant impact on the fashion and garment industry in New York City. But the industry has also played a critical role in the fight against the pandemic, with manufacturers pivoting from making clothing for NYC brands and Fashion Week to making medical gowns, face masks, and other protective gear.
Meet three companies, all recipients of the Fashion Manufacturing Initiative (FMI) grant, who were part of the NYCEDC-led effort that produced 4.2 million medical gowns for healthcare workers and preserved hundreds of jobs.
Meet the Ferraras, a family business that reinvented itself in Manhattan’s Garment District
Founded by wife and husband Carolyn and Joseph Ferrara in 1987, and run with the help of their children Gabrielle and Angelo since 2016, Ferrara Manufacturing has spent more than 30 years in Manhattan’s Garment District producing fine tailored clothing for the fashion industry's most notable and prestigious brands, including Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, and Donna Karen.
But early in 2020, everything changed. Seeing a need—and an opportunity to help—in the response to the COVID-19 crisis, the Ferraras expanded their business, launching Ferrara Supply, a new division of their operation dedicated to manufacturing protective garments. To date, the company has shipped nearly 3 million medical isolation gowns, masks, and other items to hospitals, healthcare facilities, and businesses in NYC and across the US.
“More than ever, we're seeing the need and the importance of preserving the Garment District in New York City, which is the United States’ anchor of apparel manufacturing,” said Gabrielle. “If you go anywhere else in the world and approach another global community of manufacturers, they probably couldn't do what we did in March because we're so used to developing new products. Fashion is ever-changing. New business models, rethinking supply chains and increased awareness around equity and sustainability are required for the future of fashion manufacturing in this city.”
Meet Helen and Ibrahim, partners at HD Fashion, one of the few minority-owned garment manufacturers in New York City
Business was thriving for HD Fashion, a three-year-old company run by founder Helen Lee, a Chinese immigrant, and her partner Ibrahim Ndoye, a Senegalese designer and entrepreneur. The small manufacturer had been thriving—working with established brands, including Coach and Rag & Bone, as well as with a steady stream of new and emerging designers.
But then the pandemic hit the city and the company’s production plummeted, falling by 65 to 70 percent. Facing a new reality, Helen and Ibrahim heard and responded to NYCEDC’s call for manufacturers to make medical gowns for healthcare workers. HD Fashion went on to work with 10 garment manufacturers in Queens, Brooklyn, and Manhattan, as part of a joint effort to make almost half a million gowns in less than six weeks.
“In March, it was really stressful and scary, but I was more worried about what we could do to help with the response, because I knew garment manufacturers have the capabilities to make what New York City needs,” said Ibrahim. “The pandemic has shown us how vital manufacturing is in this city and the importance of continuing to partner, collaborate, and support small garment manufacturers. Fashion will never die in New York City. It won’t look the same, but it still has a future. It’s New York City.”
Meet Michelle, owner of New York Embroidery Studio, who is confident in the industry’s talent and workforce
Michelle Feinberg made her career in New York City. As a college student at the Fashion Institute of Technology, Michelle’s first job was designing embroidery and embellishments for a 100-year-old family business in Manhattan. And when that company was sold to a shoulder pad and zipper company, Michelle stayed on there for several years before opening her own business, New York Embroidery Studio, in 2001.
Used to collaborating with fashion designers like Tory Burch and Coach, and taking part in worldwide events like the MET Gala, Michelle had to shift in a big way when the pandemic hit. Like other manufacturers, she expanded her operations to produce protective gear, even setting up an additional factory in Brooklyn. It was just the latest, if one of the most unexpected, changes and challenges Michelle had seen in her career. And throughout all of this, one thing’s for certain for Michelle: The talent and workforce in NYC is unmatched.
“We have the people. We have the skills. We have the technology. We have the resources. We should be making things here; this pandemic proves it,” said Michelle. “I love my people. I have people who have been with me for 30 years throughout my career in the Garment District. To overcome the hurdles brought by the pandemic, we will need new investments, new collaborations, and new approaches that will help the garment and fashion industry thrive.”