Can Detroit become America’s next fashion hub? – Crain’s Detroit Business

Buscemi’s most ambitious project is the creation of a garment district in Detroit. Renowned garment districts in New York City and Los Angeles contain concentrations of designers, cut and sew operations, bigger manufacturers, showrooms, distributors and wholesalers. The districts are a catalyst for the industry, which benefits from the vertical integration created by close proximity.

But due to rising property values, the garment district in Manhattan is no longer a practical place to locate for smaller manufacturers or warehouses, which are essential to the industry.

That’s where Detroit has an advantage. Buscemi’s initial plan calls for the aggregation of 40,000 square feet of space with room to grow.

Detroit Denim is an example of a small manufacturer that might benefit from locating in a local garment district. The company makes men’s jeans. Each pair is hand-sewn and made from high-quality selvedge denim sourced in the United States. Because of the smaller production scale — Detroit Denim makes about 40 pairs of jeans per week — the company does limited runs, special orders, and unique cuts that other jean producers don’t offer.

The result of this process is considerably less waste.

“Our country promotes a culture of disposable clothing,” said Brenna Lane, production and operations manager. “Most clothes have a lifespan of months and then get thrown out. … I tell customers that they’re investing in a piece of clothing, rather than something disposable.”

Detroit Denim recently moved to a new retail and manufacturing space in Harbortown and currently employs eight people.

Another Detroit clothing manufacturer, Lazlo, makes plain white T-shirts out of the Corktown makerspace Ponyride. Once again, it’s not your standard T-shirt. Lazlo’s shirts are made of supima cotton, an extra-long staple variety that results in softer and more durable fabric, and which accounts for about 3 percent of United States cotton production. Of this, Lazlo sources organic, which is only 1 percent of supima growers produce.

Sustainability is important to Lazlo’s business model. Co-founder Christian Birky said he was appalled at the waste and poor labor practices in the fashion industry, where the norm is to manufacture clothes from cheap materials using cheap labor.

“We said, ‘Let’s try to make white the best possible white T-shirt’ and see what was possible,” Birky said. “But also know who it’s made by, where it’s made, and what it’s made out of.”

The shirts are sold out of several Michigan stores as well as online.

The company also worked with the Michigan Department of Corrections to train inmates in cutting and sewing and recently hired its first returning citizen, who earns $15 an hour.

The biggest obstacle Detroit Denim and Lazlo have to overcome is consumer conventions around the cost of clothing. Higher-quality materials and fairly-compensated labor results in much higher prices — $250 for a pair of jeans and $110 for a T-shirt.

“Even though these are not traditionally luxury products, because of the quality and craftsmanship, they’re priced as a luxury product,” said Erin Patton, director of Retail and Marketing at Ponyride. “Fashion has struggled for many years to have proven models that are sustainable. If someone doesn’t try to do it, it’ll never be done. … It’s a lot they’re asking to shift customer behavior.”

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