This month, New York City officials released word of a $3.5 million investment in a new fashion incubator: The Manufacturing Innovation Hub for Apparel, Textiles and Wearable Tech. The creative space is a response to the burgeoning local talent scene, and meant to take that talent into new realms of opportunity, increasing business and creating jobs. The centre's location? Not Manhattan's Garment District, but Brooklyn.
This hub closely follows a similar project from the Pratt Institute. In October, the school announced its opening of the Brooklyn Fashion and Design Accelerator in the area between Bed-Stuy and South Williamsburg. The center offers work space, on-site business mentorship, showroom space, retail sites and production services to New York designers.
The fashion business in Brooklyn is booming. Is it possible that the borough might be on its way to fashion-capital status, even elbowing Manhattan out of the spotlight? Brooklyn fashion has been its own mini-empire since the '90s, with Bed-Stuy hip hop trends giving way to the Rachel Comey girl riding her bike to the Brooklyn Flea. The question is now whether Brooklyn is joining the high-fashion scene and rolling with its heavy hitters, or if it will stay its own self-reliant, bustling realm of indie designers.
"Brooklyn is a new take on fashion. Manhattan represents the old school - the glitz and glamour, the old money of Fifth Avenue," explains Kai Avent-deLeon, owner of Bed-Stuy's newly opened Sincerely, Tommy. "Brooklyn represents the young generation, what's hip now. Manhattan might always keep its crown, but Brooklyn will always be what's fresh and new."
The fashion industry as we know it is definitely turning its attention to Brooklyn. Think of the power-player designers moving Fashion Week events across the river. Fashion is all about change and the next cool thing, so it doesn't make sense for it to be anchored in one place if talent and trends are coming from another. When Alexander Wang showed his FW14 collection in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, it's like he was telling buyers and journalists "Party's over here. Get with it."
While Brooklyn-based designers have broken through in the mainstream fashion industry over the past few years, their lines have neatly represented what we think of when we think of the "Brooklyn girl" - artsy, crafty, and slightly unsophisticated. But a new wave of high-end designers and tastemakers, like Cecilia Dean in Red Hook, are setting up shop in the "other borough," either living there, doing business or both.
Williamsburg-based Hillary Taymour, the brains behind ready-to-wear and accessory line, Collina Strada, is one of the industry's most buzzed-about designers. For her and her work, Brooklyn's appeal is in its openness.
"Brooklyn just has more room to play. You don't feel boxed up as you would in Manhattan. I think it just allows me to be surrounded by a younger, more urban culture that ultimately benefits my work."
Brooklyn's shopping scene reflects its growth in fashion, too. The borough is a haven for flea markets, making it the place to be when you're looking for something handmade. But stores like Bird (celebrating its 10 year anniversary with three outposts) and Sincerely, Tommy are challenging the assumption that Brooklyn is more Etsy than runway, as they bring a representation of the high fashion market to the area, with luxury brands and international designers.
Avent-deLeon chose Bed-Stuy to sell the cult labels that people couldn't find anywhere else because she grew up there, but also because she loved that it captured the Brooklyn spirit by being one of the only remaining hotbeds of true creativity and eccentricity in the city. She points out that Brooklyn has been and will continue to be a force in global fashion not only because of its talent but because of the trends it creates. "Brooklyn seems to be a brand. People around the world are branding things as 'Brooklyn this' and 'Brooklyn that.' It's always been cool to me, so it's interesting to see everyone catching on now."
The talent is there, the exciting vision is there, the welcoming of luxury style is there. The fashion industry is taking note and starting to count Brooklyn as a key player in the global scene, and organisations like Pratt and the New York City government are recognising the success the borough has already had and the potential there for so much more.
The Manufacturing Innovation Hub for Apparel, Textiles and Wearable Tech will be in the Liberty View Industrial Plaza in far-flung Sunset Park. The goal is to ramp up the manufacturing and job growth happening in Brooklyn as a result of the bubbling fashion scene, and it's prepared to make an impact: it will create 300 jobs and offer space to 20 to 30 businesses and 50 designers.
Pratt's Brooklyn Design + Fashion Accelerator is also poised to promote Brooklyn in the global fashion arena. Located in the borough, the prestigious Pratt Institute has seen talent come from and/or move there firsthand. Debera Johnson, Executive Director of the Accelerator, sees Brooklyn's future contribution to the fashion-sphere. "The Garment District is a twentieth-century concept. Brooklyn will be a different type of epicentre - more of a multiplex that connects technology, sustainability, and fashion in a 21st century mindset."
Manhattan won't just fade from fashion - the Garment District, the shopping scene, New York Fashion Week, Parsons and FIT, its community of designers and its rich history make too strong of a case for its fashion-capital status. But in this increasingly online climate, with designers connecting with buyers, customers and media through the internet, fashion doesn't have to cluster in one space anymore, and there's room for Brooklyn to make a serious mark.
"I think Brooklyn and Manhattan over the past five years are becoming more and more equals," Taymour says. "Brooklyn will always remain cool while Manhattan can never lose its chic status. I don't think Manhattan will ever relinquish the throne; however, they are just going to start to meld together more and more."
Text Courtney Iseman
Photography Al Bulter