Since its inception in the early 1800s, the garment and fashion industry in New York City has a roughly two-century history.Though Manhattan's apparel production center has moved—from the Lower East Side to the blocks between 14th and 23rd streets—over the years, its current position in Midtown Manhattan is just as legendary and renowned.
The garment business flourished faster than any other in the mid-nineteenth century, fueled by the arrival of the sewing machine and a need for low-cost clothes. Given that New York was the country's largest textile storage facility, it was only inevitable that apparel production would flourish here.The government resorted to New York City manufacturers when mass-produced uniforms were required during the Civil War.
The Garment District is now located west of 6th Avenue, between 34th and 41st Streets. Although the neighborhood does not extend quite as far north as 42nd Street, 42nd Street was once a major thoroughfare. The Tenderloin, as it was called, was a hotbed for nefarious enterprises such as gambling and brothels.The rich fought to protect Fifth Avenue as a glitzy, high-end avenue and to prevent industries from encroaching higher uptown. The Fifth Avenue Association began a campaign in the early 1900s whose interest centered around keeping Fifth Avenue free of industrial lofts and the smoky, unpleasant shops that are typical of manufacturing neighborhoods. Because houses of questionable character were largely in small brownstones and sewing enterprises required large, open areas for their businesses, a zoning law both frightened manufacturers and encouraged the Garment District to move into the Tenderloin.
Rather than being used for housing, the lofts created in place of traditional brownstones were used for manufacturing. The high ceilings were necessary for the massive machinery, while the large windows provided fresh air for the employees and kept the garments pest-free.
Hundreds of companies in the area are now dedicated to the fashion industry, from design to production to merchandising; manufacturing alone employs over 11,000 people. Shops selling accessories, buttons, beads, lace, and, of course, fabric can be found here: Project Runway's Mood Fabric Store is located on 37th Street.
550 Seventh Avenue is considered the Fashion District's focal point. This skyscraper housed the fashion houses and elegantly outfitted showrooms of many well-known designers, including Donna Karan and Ralph Lauren (who still owns property there). It's one of the reasons why 7th Avenue is renowned throughout the District as Fashion Avenue. Encrypted headquarters are located at 535 7th Ave, truly in the heart of the Fashion District.
The Fashion Walk of Fame is a great place to learn about the American designers who helped to make the Garment District a global fashion hub. On bronze plaques placed on the sidewalk along Seventh Avenue between 35th and 41st streets, you'll find names like Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, Oscar de la Renta, and Bill Blass among many.