For New York City, Fashion is a Preeminent Economic Priority

Models walk the runway finale at Lacoste during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Spring 2015 on September 6, 2014 in New York City. Anton Oparin / Shutterstock.com

The biannual fashion weeks bring in about $900 million in total economic impact per year to New York City, surpassing huge events like the Super Bowl, U.S. Open and New York Marathon each. However, the future of the defining event remains unknown.

The semi-annual fashion weeks in New York City are glamorous affairs. Designers, models, press and tourists come from around the world twice per year, prompting brand innovation, capturing the attention of local and international media and clogging the streets with traffic.

The embellished clothes, world-class designers and exclusive red carpet events of the iconic fashion weeks are a giant economic impact on the city. The February and September events rake in approximately $900 million in total economic impact per year, with just more than half coming directly from visitor spending, according to a 2015 report by the Joint Economic Committee, a two-branch Congressional committee chaired by Rep. Kevin Brady whose main purpose is to report on U.S. economic matters.

This total trumps the 2014 Super Bowl, U.S. Open and the New York Marathon each.

“New York Fashion Week is the original fashion week,” Ian Fried, a spokesperson for the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), says in an email.  “More than 500 events take place during the semi-annual Fashion Weeks, where visitors can see emerging designers and legendary designers showcasing their latest work.”

Although both fashion weeks create a boost for the local economy, these high fashion, glitz and glamour events are not the only way New York City’s fashion industry packs a punch into the city’s economy overall.

New York City is the fashion headquarters of not only the United States, but the world, considered to be soaring past fashion hubs like Milan, Paris and London, the JEC report says.

Although New York and Los Angeles are by far leading the pack in the fashion world compared to other U.S. cities, the Big Apple surpasses the City of Angels by providing some of the world’s top fashion schools, opportunities for trade and wholesale markets.

“Fashion is incredibly important to New York City, not just because it helps make us the most creative and exciting city in the world, but because of the hundreds of thousands of jobs and links to economic opportunity it creates,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio says in a press release. “We are determined to ensure that New York City’s working designers and manufacturers—and those aspiring to join that community—have the support they need to make it in New York City, and continue to grow NYC as the fashion capital of the world.”

On a global scale, the fashion industry generates $1.2 trillion annually, according to the JEC, with $250 billion coming from within the U.S.

According to NYCEDC, fashion industry jobs account for six percent, or about 180,000, of the entire employment force in New York City, mustering $10.9 billion in wages and $2 billion in tax revenue per year. New York and Los Angeles share the two highest employment numbers of fashion designers across the country, employing two-thirds of the demographic.

A U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report shows the U.S. saw a national decline in the amount of fashion manufacturing jobs over the past 20 years, from 940,000 in 1990 to 144,000 in 2013. As of October 2014, about 139,000 U.S. citizens worked in apparel manufacturing.

“Most of the apparel manufacturing jobs have moved overseas where wages are much lower,” Deborah Sanders, instructor in the Department of Economic and Business at Lehman College says. “So it has been outsourcing and jobs going into other countries where wages are lower are happening in manufacturing industries across many different sectors. So the apparel industry is just one.”

Over the past century, New York City’s Garment District was once home to the largest apparel manufacturing industry across the globe, however, low-wage jobs like sewing, textile machine operating and tailoring have since moved offshore in order to cut costs, the JEC report says. Although the number of apparel manufacturing jobs in New York City declined over the past twenty years, fashion manufacturing still accounts for 31 percent of all manufacturing jobs in the city, Fashion.NYC.2020, a study conducted by NYCEDC reporting trends in the fashion industry, says.

“People who aspire to work in the industry in manufacturing in New York really don’t have much of another place to go,” Sanders says. “They’re stuck with the fact that they’re just isn’t as much of a demand for their labor anymore. The manufacturing has long since abandoned and left New York City.”

Between 2010 and 2020, these types of jobs are projected by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to decrease even more. Sewing machine operators, specifically, are projected to decrease 25.8 percent, totalling 42,100 jobs.

“For a while, China was a big textile job area. More recently, we see Vietnam, Pakistan, other areas of the world with lower wages competing for the textile production jobs,” Dr. Lara Storino, instructor of economics at Rowan University in Glassboro, N.J., says in an email. “In an increasingly global world, this won’t change.”

This paves the way for higher-paying and skilled employment opportunities across the global supply chain requiring a higher level of education the JEC eported. These include marketing, research and development and design.

“These will be areas that will support high paying jobs because they will sell high end products,” Storino says in an email. “They will be specialized, catering to special needs, marketing to high end, well educated customers from all over the world.”

New York City is home to some of the world’s top fashion colleges and universities including the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), Parsons the New School for Design and Pratt Institute. The schools not only serve to give fashion students the skills they will need if they choose to seek employment in the industry, but contribute to New York City’s economy through the hundreds of thousands of tourists they attract each year.

FIT generates more than $280 million in spending alone and attracts more than 200,000 tourists annually, according to the JEC report.

Yoko Katagiri, an adjunct professor of economics at FIT, created and teaches a class that focuses on the economics of the fashion industry.

“Their qualifications are high,” Katagiri says. She explains this class is important for all students interested in pursuing careers in the industry. “They get hands on learning from the professors who watch or who have been involved in the fashion industry itself. The students can get training from these instructors that have very good backgrounds or knowledgeable information about the inside environment of fashion industry.”

These prestigious higher education institutions sponsor initiatives to help bolster the local fashion industry and provide opportunities to those trying to emerge in the market. Partnered with NYCEDC, FIT hosts “Design Entrepreneurs NYC,” a program serving to provide up-and-coming designers to receive “mini-MBAs,” and learn the marketing, operations and financial management skills to become successful designers.

The future of the fashion industry in New York City is unknown. However, according to Katagiri, the apparel manufacturing industry may continue to decline.

“New York City has been very successful promoting itself as one of the main capitals of the fashion industry among well known cities like Paris, London, Milan and possibly Tokyo,” Katagiri says. “For the next ten years, unfortunately the manufacturing sector is a struggle because the world competition is very high for much cheaper labor countries like China, Mexico and other countries. But New York City still keeps the function as the creator side.”

According to NYCEDC, it is important that the city’s fashion industry continues to be recognized on a world stage, which shines a light like none other can. The non-profit does not have any future forecasts.

“The fashion industry is a pillar of New York City’s economy, and has been for decades,” Fried says in an email. “In addition to its significant economic impact, it is responsible for broadcasting New York City to millions, generating a worldwide spotlight on the city like almost nothing else.”