On Friday afternoon, a group of fashion advocates, including designer Nanette Lepore and Representative Diane Watson (Democrat of California), gathered in the representative’s Washington offices to discuss the state of the fashion industry and demonstrate their support for the creation of a Fashion Caucus in Congress. Sipping cocktails and wobbling a bit in their heels (D.C.’s penchant for smooth marble floors doesn’t do well with the stacked platform), the audience listened to the panel of designers, politicians, economists, and lobbyists who were invited by the Greater Washington Fashion Chamber of Commerce to discuss the need for more government involvement in the industry. Among the items on their agenda: the protection of intellectual-property rights for designers, the creation of enterprise zones across the country to promote local talent, and the need to ensure that New York City’s garment district doesn’t become a denizen of more condos and tourist traps. “This caucus isn’t about the image of fashion, it’s about the business of fashion,” said Christine Brooks-Cropper, GWFCC president, as she introduced the group.
“The fashion district is facing extinction, and small factories are being lost to developers,” said designer and garment-district advocate Nanette Lepore, who wrote an editorial about that threat earlier this month in the New York Times. “Without it, young designers cannot get their start in New York City.” Lepore worries that Mayor Bloomberg’s idea to consolidate millions of square feet currently used by fashion manufacturers into a 280,000-square-foot building will essentially decimate the industry. She proudly noted that she produces 80 percent of her line in the city and announced plans for a “Save the Fashion District” rally to be held at the bronze garment-worker statue at 39th and Seventh on October 21.
“I don’t think the local government understands how it works,” Lepore noted after her speech. “I’ve been trying to get a meeting with Bloomberg for a year … the mayor would rather have Chi-Chi’s and the Olive Garden in the area. I think he wants to ignore us so he can get his agenda passed through. But on October 21, he’s going to have to pay attention.”
Lepore says she’d gotten support from other local pols, like Scott Stringer and Kirsten Gillibrand, and is speaking with Anna Sui and CFDA executive director Steven Kolb about gaining more exposure for the rally. But she also needs some fashion bigwigs to start returning her calls.
“We need someone like Ralph Lauren onboard, or someone like Donna Karan. We need them to realize that they’re still there, their design rooms are still there, and they should be helping support this cause. We’re working real hard to try and get them, and I realize that they do get called a lot. But this is different. This is your bread and butter. This is your career, this is what you build your life on. You have to give back to those who want the same opportunity.”