When I come to my internship at Planet Money here in New York I walk past Bryant Park. Typically I don't pay much attention to it, but for the past two weeks there have been these huge white tents. After asking some stupid questions I realized this is Fashion Week, which also explains all the well dressed people walking around. Thousands of fashionistas are gathering under those tents to learn what's hot in the industry.
Not suprisingly, the recession has been brutal for the fashion business. I hung out with Samanta Cortes, the CEO of Fashion Design Concepts who told me economic downturn was so crippling she is considering closing up shop. Today she has 5 part-time employees and an eviction notice, which she hopes to avoid with the money she makes during Fashion Week.
Bryant Park is located in the old Garment District, which amazingly, up until the early 1960s produced 95 percent of all the clothing worn by Americans. Since then rising rents and fierce foreign competition forced the majority of manufactures out of Manhattan. The firms that survived and thrive today typically cater to a luxury or niche market.
Samantha's company is a small high-end embroidery firm. When she founded it in 2001 business boomed and she eventually hired 12 full time employees.
The textile work she does might be done more cheaply in China. But there's a market here for quick turnaround jobs, especially this week. "A piece will literally leave my office and in an hour or two be on the runway," Samanta said.
Despite this year's Fashion Week bump, the Samanta said that many other companies have shut their doors and that her case is emblematic of those that remain.
This will be the last year Bryant Park will host Fashion Week. The partnership is ending because park officials and designers couldn't come to an agreement over longstanding issues. Next year the event will take place a few blocks uptown at Lincoln Center.