NYFW: ‘Made in New York’ initiative gives emerging designers a boost

A dozen NYC jewelry and fashion designers are receiving free exhibition space in the prestigious Designers & Agents spring ’17 show to parade and peddle their wares to buyers and press from around the world.

“This is huge for me,” said Elise Ballegeer, owner of her eponymous firm that designs classic “structural essentials.” “As a really small designer, it’s difficult to push a lot of money into marketing and publicity,” but being included in the D&A show raises her brand’s visibility tremendously, says the designer from Prospect-Lefferts Gardens. Newish designers have trouble affording trade show booths, which can cost anywhere from $4,000 to $10,000, and the space they are being given this month can put them on the radar of retailers such as Barneys New York and Net-a-Porter, she explained.

An estimated 3,000 international buyers, press and fashion professionals are expected to attend the trade show in Chelsea’s Starrett Lehigh and Cedar Lake buildings from Sept. 17 to 19. The dozen designers selected to participate in the “Made in NY Collective” are partial beneficiaries of the city’s $15 million “Made in New York” initiative to reinforce NYC’s status as a working fashion capital and widen the pipeline of creative talent.

Chosen for their high quality and design standards, members of the collective are also being mentored by D&A’s owners. The “workshop” sessions help them forecast sales trends more accurately, edit collections for buyer-friendliness and solve vexing shipping, sourcing and payment issues.

The designers also endeavor to be socially conscious: They try to verify the people they employ are paid fairly, obtain (often organic) sustainably sourced materials and voice fierce defense of the “buy local/think global” ethic.

“I love making things here” in NYC, said Xiao Wang, whose eponymous jewelry collection is worn by celebrities such as singer Rihanna and actress Gabrielle Union. In NYC, Wang — who is also a model, actress and designer — can work directly with casters and setters in the jewelry district. “I have much better quality control here than if I were to make (my jewelry) overseas,” said Wang, who lives in Queens but prefers her neighborhood not be named for safety reasons.

The city is boosting the designers, but they also yield a return to the local economy. “I love my country. I believe 100% in manufacturing in this country,” Wang said. Yes, labor is more expensive in NYC, “but you save on shipping and have no import-export problems” and fewer returns and delays, says the dynamic designer who, interestingly enough, exports her couture gem creations to Hong Kong.

Judi Rosen, a partner with Abra Boero on Off Season, the line of breezy, comfy clothes sold online and through a boutique run by Boero in Rockaway Beach, is similarly evangelistic about New York’s rag trade. “The city is an integral part of my design process: All the hands that touch my garments are so incredibly important to me,” said Rosen, who cherishes her relationships with local suppliers and craftspeople.

The trade show space and savvy advice she receives from D&A is especially appreciated given the havoc gentrification has wrought on clothing manufacturers locally. “The quality of workmanship here is unsurpassed anywhere in the world,” Rosen said, but the increase in real estate costs has been catastrophic, driving out factories and artisans. Their hardship extends to small designers, who face higher prices and increased competition from industry behemoths in getting samples made and other services. “It’s just cost-prohibitive (for factories, sewers and other artisans) because “space is at such a premium: It’s not for lack of talent, it’s for lack of space,” she said.

Rosen — long known for her denim designs, linen dresses and jumpers she produces under another label, JudiRosenNY — says she looks at Off Season’s inclusion in the collective as the “badge for all my years of struggle” hustling in the garment trade.

Wang, who is well-known by fashionistas for her avant-garde yet feminine jewelry designs, is likewise thrilled. “There are still people who don’t know who I am and I’d like to build more brand awareness,” she explained. “This trade show opportunity is just beyond, quite honestly,” Wang said.

Other designers in the Made in New York Collective are Alasdair, Christine Alcalay, Dan-yell, Kordal, Nikki Chasin, Noorism, Sabre Jewelry, SamChurch, and William Okpo.