Some WVFC readers might remember a Nanette Lepore fashion catwalk we embedded last year for one of our Pat Allen’s posts; the very last dress in it, after all the signature Lepore pieces, was a T-shirt saying simply: SAVE THE GARMENT CENTER. It passed by so quickly, you might not have had time to ask: Save what?

That Lepore T-shirt was in support of a grassroots campaign by entrepeneurs in New York City’s Garment District, a half-mile-square stretch of Lower Midtown that once held garment factories as well as Seventh Avenue design showrooms. And today, Lepore and the Council of Fashion Designers brought that campaign a step forward, with a rally that also featured Fern Mallis (left), executive director of 7 on Sixth, which produces Fashion Week.

As city planners tout a new proposal to consolidate the Garment District zoning rules, they’re now getting pushback from Lepore’s CFDA and Save The Garment Center, founded two years ago by local apparel-industry business owners such as Samanta Cortes (right), of Fashion Design Concepts, Inc. Cortes and 20 to 30 other providers founded Save the Garment Center because booming real estate values had already shrunk the size of the District, whose zoning protects the area from encroachment by retail and residential development.

Cortes, who started her business in 2000 with “two sewing machines and Lily, my bookkeeper,” and now grosses over $500,000 a year serving high-end and younger designers with patternmaking, embroidery and handworked details, worked with the other SGC members to tell their side of the story. They pointed to recent studies show that while mass production has mostly moved overseas, the number of local shops like Cortes’ — patternmaking, samples, trim, accessories — has actually grown. They said that the city should treat the district like the Yankees: as an essential part of the city that deserves all the support possible.

Now, with thousands of designer, entrepreneurs, factory workers and educational institutions among its members, Save the Garment Center hopes that vision can counter the demands of those who want to turn the Garment District into another glamorous boutique destination.

WVFC contributing editor Elizabeth Willse was at today’s rally with, a Web site focused on the District’s unique convergence of artists and skilled local providers. Some highlights of their report:


Stan Herman, former president of CFDA, and Fern Malice, Senior VP of IMG Fashion

A crowd gathered in Manhattan at 39th Street and Seventh Avenue. “It’s so nice to see real people on these streets for what they believe in, and not just clicking a protest box on the computer,” said Fern Mallis, senior vice president of IMG Fashion. What Ms. Mallis termed “a good old-fashioned rally” featured speakers such as factory owners, union representatives, designer Nanette Lepore and mayoral hopeful Bill Thompson.

The densely packed crowd, including students and industry professionals like Paul Cavazza, owner of Create-A-Marker, waved signs reading “It’s Sew N.Y.” and “Save the Fashion District.”

“What do we want to do?” artist Robert Savage, Nanette Lepore’s husband, exhorted the crowd.

“Save the garment center!” they shouted, waving their signs.


Stan Herman, former president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), evoked the garment industry’s past, when a piece of clothing could be made, start to finish, in one afternoon. He celebrated designers like Anna Sui and Nanette Lepore, who are committed to keeping local business a part of their design. “Protecting and modernizing zoning is the key,” he said. “It’s time to take pride in ‘Made In New York!’”

“The world is watching to see what New York is wearing,” said Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer. “Everybody needs to work together to save the industry and create jobs.” He called stricter zoning laws “an economic engine, to bring creativity here and preserve New York’s history.

“Vote and organize,” he implored the crowd, “as if your life depended on it.”

No matter how bad the economy is, said almost every speaker, “everybody wears clothes!” The rally was a call to action,to spur government to pass zoning laws that would preserve and develop fashion industry space in the city, which is vital for the economy.

For the rest, including Lepore’s passionate statement about the future of the District, click here.

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