As America's biggest fashion week kicks off in New York today, it's the perfect time to remind the world where more of our clothing comes from: downtown Los Angeles.
L.A. is the United States' apparel manufacturing leader. Despite our much lower media profile, L.A. beats New York's fashion industry in output and employment (110,000 people).
We asked USC Price School of Public Policy professor Elizabeth Currid-Halkett, who recently co-authored a groundbreaking study on the business, why L.A. is overshadowed:
First, we'll look at her study, which was published this week in the journal PLOS ONE with the help of co-author Sarah Williams of MIT's Department of Urban Studies and Planning.
Seventy-seven New York fashion designers gave the duo unprecedented access to their Foursquare check-ins for two weeks.
What they found was that 80 percent of the designers' business-related trips took place within New York's own Garment District.
“We were able to articulate the extent to which even high-end designers require resources of the Garment District for their survival,” Currid-Halkett of USC told us.
She has studied L.A.'s Fashion District in recent years and says she believes the numbers would be similar:
These findings would really align with what's going on in L.A. too. There's a whole district that's even more vibrant that the one in New York. You're going to see these patterns even more so. If there's last-minute changes, extra fabric, buttons, that stuff needs to be ready and near. It wouldn't be successful somewhere else.
In fact, a 2010 study the duo conducted, published in the journal Urban Studies, found similar concentrations of apparel businesses in both the New York Garment District and in the L.A. Fashion District (despite the East Coast media stereotype that L.A. has no urban core).
So why is L.A. a distant second when it comes to the American fashion spotlight? For one thing, Currid-Halkett says, New York has most of the United States' high-profile, haute couture and prêt-à-porter designers.
New York is also the media capital, and it shines more attention on itself than anywhere else – naturally. L.A.'s industry is focused on less conspicuous, casual fashion. And, Currid-Halkett says, NYC was historically known as America's fashion capital. Contemporary history hasn't yet caught up with reality.
The prof says:
L.A.'s creative industries, excluding Hollywood, don't get as much attention as New York's. New York has a historical precedent. That's hard to shake. In the post-World War II period, New York has been the fashion capital of the world. It makes it hard for L.A. to usurp that position from New York.
L.A. is a center of casual sportswear. It's not the kind the media gobbles up on the runway.
Still, we have a lot in common – clothing zones that allow labels to go from designer to prototype sewer to manufacturing in the same neighborhood. Currid-Halkett says L.A. and New York's fashion districts are …
… incredibly similar in location, structure, and organization. The study of New York's Garment District is illuminating for L.A.'s garment district.