Coronavirus and a Return to ‘Old School’ Garment District

“Everyone had to be laid off furloughed,” said Debbie Rudoy, the Founder of luxury clothier, Goldie Tees. 

What You Need To Know

  • NYC Garment Center’s showrooms gear up for September sales of spring lines
  • In the last couple of decades more and more sales were made at big trade shows, but COVID-19 forced cancelations
  • 67% of surveyed NYC garment businesses experienced layoffs or furloughs this year, according to The Council of Fashion Designers of America, Inc.
  • Several designers, manufacturers and sales companies survived because of a surge in online sales of casual clothes during the pandemic

When COVID-19 hit New York’s Garment Industry hard, online sales saved the retail end of Rudoy’s business, but wholesale took a huge hit.

“Nobody’s making money this year,” said Elizabeth Courtney, a vice president at Findings Inc., “We’re gonna try to survive the best we can, do the best job that we can.”

Findings Inc. represents more than a dozen designers and manufacturers and was saved by online retailers selling casual wear.

“The phone was kind of crazy and emails — ‘I need merch. I need merch.’ We were really excited these stores needed fresh new product, and we’re trying to keep up because the factories had been closed,” said Courtney.

Many factories are starting to operate again, but the big trade shows where buyers can find what they want in one place, from wholesalers like Courtney and Rudoy, are all still canceled.

“That means I have to look for a strong sales force or showroom to represent me,” said Rudoy. “It’s very much like it was a long time ago … It’s like old school.”

What Rudoy means is that Garment District is now starting to operating, in some ways, like it once did, as a place where buyers for retail outlets visit brands, for private showings of the latest designs without publicity. Gradually, over the last two decades, more and more sales were made at trade shows.

Sales Consultant and author Mercedes Gonzalez of Global Purchasing Companies says showrooms are now preparing to make presentations in September for the spring season.

“The showrooms: actually reopening or showrooms actually expanding,” Gonzalez said. “I think it’s a really significant turning point for the Garment Industry to make a tremendous comeback.”

With some visitors to New York required to quarantine for 14 days, many of these presentations will continue to be done virtually, but these experts say those are no substitutes for the real thing.

Herzenberg: “How do you sell a garment when no one can touch it?”

“Great point, great point,” responded Courtney. “We send out swatch books before the appointment…so they can get a little versed … I’ll put it up to the camera, but there is that feel of touch…that you’re right.”

“You have the feel and you have to feel the quality and fit,” Gonzalez added.

When the coronavirus crisis ends, those trade shows may return. But for now, the Garment District is enjoying a throwback moment, a return of sorts to the way things were.



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