In Brooklyn a few weeks ago I had the opportunity to meet with Bob Bland, CEO of Manufacture New York. They are an ambitious 160,000 square foot public/private partnership that’s reimagining the fashion business in New York. In one place Manufacture NY is co-locating contract manufactures, emerging fashion brands and advanced fashion research (think wearables, sensors, smart fabrics, and the application of advanced manufacturing to fashion). The idea is that by bringing all these elements under one roof, the supply chain can be compressed, sped-up, and made more innovative. Bland says that by bringing technologists, designers and manufactures together they address many industry problems at once.
New York City’s Economic Development office has put a big emphasis on making the fashion business a major part of the city’s urban manufacturing scene. They envision a local urban supply chain that can offer a scalable (if initially nascent) alternative to the giant extended global supply chain we’re all used to. Manufacture NY makes the case that in fashion it makes more and more sense for brands to be located near their suppliers. Social media is speeding up fashion cycles, so we’re moving beyond the era predictable seasons and looks that can be specified well ahead of time. Manufactures want to place smaller orders more frequently so they can take less inventory risk, keep current with trends and not end up with unprofitable clothing they have to dump. The plan is for 30 contract manufacturers to make 15,000 units per week in just a few years.
There is another reason to put so much talent in one space: creativity flourishes. Bland points out that in fashion, unlike tech, there isn’t a lot of IP protection. So when you cram a bunch of designers in one place they riff off of each other’s idea and incorporate influences the way artists do. What might be called stealing ideas in the software business is seen as jazz and a more interesting work environment in fashion.
Manufacture New York’s greatest innovation may be dependable, stabilized long-term rents for this whole ecosystem. Unexpected rent increases and short lease period, hallmarks of NY’s hot real-estate market, are murder on low margin businesses. By planning for up to 400,000 share feet of long-term space for these companies, Manufacture NY is literally providing a home for one of New York’s iconic fashion industry.
Join us at MakerCon in New York on September 24th for more on how this fascinating maker city economy is evolving.