Sewing the Seeds

Establishing a garment district and promoting fashion industry skills could help fuel Detroit’s recovery


Published:

In the newly renovated second floor of the One Woodward skyscraper in downtown Detroit, a large crowd gathered in mid-October for FashionSpeak — a conference for the fashion industry put on by Detroit Garment Group Guild (DG3). 

Five workshops centered on the business of fashion, and fashion designer Tracy Reese (above), who grew up in Detroit, headlined the event. Presenters emphasized the potential Detroit has to become a manufacturing mecca for the garment industry — which has been the cornerstone of DG3’s recent work. 

DG3 has been working with the Detroit Economic Growth Corp. (DEGC) to find the best area for the multipurpose facility they want built by next fall. 

“The dream is to grow from the DG3 multipurpose facility and allow a garment district to evolve organically,” says DG3 President Karen Buscemi.

The new facility will have a designer incubator with office space for 12 designers, who will have access to all the top industrial machinery and cutters. It will also have DG3’s new headquarters, a shop to sell local designers’ work, and a space to hold workshops, Buscemi says. 

Mark Denson, DEGC’s manager of business attraction, is guiding Buscemi and her team through the process.

“The garment industry is really one of many areas we are exploring to bring manufacturing back to Detroit,” says Denson. “When people think about American made, they think about a few places. And Detroit is one of those — which is why several new companies in town have really built their own brands through the city’s revitalization.” 

While there is still a lot of work to be done to establish an official garment district, Denson believes it can happen.

“Absolutely I think we can do it, but I think this is also part of a larger initiative about bringing specialized manufacturing, and manufacturing in general, back to the city,” he says. 

Reese supports the idea of a garment district and thinks it’s time for Detroit, but made a point to note that if the city wants to have its own garment district, it needs to appeal to the larger market, too.

“The lion’s share of design companies are based in New York or Los Angeles and then there are smaller companies that are in Philadelphia, and now Detroit,” Reese says. “I think Detroit would need to appeal to some of the fashion-based companies in New York and L.A., and say ‘Hey, we can manufacture here as well.’ You want to reach a national audience — appealing to larger companies that are based in big fashion capitals is an important part of that.”

It seems as though Detroit received a bit more notice from the fashion world in 2014. Michigan native John Varvatos, a men’s luxury fashion designer, announced he’ll open a shop on Woodward Avenue in Detroit early next year. Over the summer, famed fashion photographer Bruce Weber, Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour, and a number of other fashion editors flew into town from New York to visit the Detroit Institute of Arts for the launch of Weber’s exhibit featuring images he took in the city.

And the leader of the pack, Shinola — which has identified itself strongly as Detroit’s “it” brand for watches, leather goods, and bikes — opened up a shop called Willys Detroit, featuring other American-made brands. 

Shinola also partnered with the College for Creative Studies to launch a new fashion accessories design program next fall.

“Two years ago if you would’ve told me all this was going to happen, I would’ve said, ‘no way,’ ” says Mark D’Andreta, DG3 vice president and the president of TD Industrial Coverings, a company that designs, manufactures, and sells custom-sewn products and apparel.

DG3 conducted a survey to find out more about the state’s demand for industrial sewers and discovered there are more than 300 vacant positions available, D’Andreta says.

And the potential jobs are not all in high-end fashion. There are numerous opportunities in industries such as automotive and furniture.

“In my business, we’ve got over 10 positions open right now that we can’t fill,” D’Andreta says. “There aren’t enough skilled sewers.”

DG3 and The Makers Coalition are doing something about that. The Detroit chapter of the coalition includes DG3, Henry Ford College Michigan Technical Education Center, the Southeast Michigan Community Alliance (SEMCA Michigan Works!), Lear Corp., and other local employers. 

In October they launched Michigan’s first industrial sewing certificate program, working closely with Michigan Works! to target the unemployed or underemployed. Once students complete the program they can earn between $10-$16 per hour.  

“We’ve lost the idea that learning a trade, building, and working with your hands … that you can make a living and you can have a great career,” D’Andreta says. “We can’t [forget] that skilled trades are important, and in order to bring manufacturing to Detroit, especially in the cut and sew industry, we need a skilled workforce.”

Edit Module
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

Archive »Related Content

Q&A: Karissma Yve, Creator of Xenophora

The Brightmoor native discusses the meaning behind her jewelry, her journey to Paris Fashion Week, and beyond

Fashion Report: Spring’s Top Trends

Get the look with the season’s best dresses, tops, accessories, and more

Expert Tips for Making Your Lipstick Last

Lipstick enthusiast and founder of The Lip Bar Melissa Butler shows you how to make the season's top lipstick trends stay from home to happy hour

The Fisher Building Is a One-Stop Shop for the Alternative Bride

Plus, bridal looks with vintage flare

Detroit-based Ash & Erie Develops Clothing Line for ‘Shorter Guys’

Former Shark Tank contestants discuss their brand and offer fashion tips
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Most Popular

  1. The Suburban Polish Restaurant That Rivals Hamtramck
    Troy’s Polka Restaurant is a thoroughly modern take on Polish traditions
  2. The Greatest (Woman) Of All Time
    Flint boxer Claressa Shields may have Olympic gold medals under her belt, but she’s just...
  3. Meet Some of the Women Running for Office in Michigan
    Michigan voters are seeing more female candidates on the ballot than ever before
  4. An Hour With... Rachelle Vartanian
    Founder and President, Living and Learning Enrichment Center
  5. Meet the Makers: Tree Trunk Arts
    A Detroit metalsmith and jewelry designer is transforming greenery into accessories
  6. An Hour With... Carmen McIntyre
    Chief Medical Officer, Michigan Department of Corrections
  7. Fashion Report: Spring’s Top Trends
    Get the look with the season’s best dresses, tops, accessories, and more
  8. City Bakery Finds a Home Inside the Fisher Building
    Detroit gets a taste of New York with the bakery's first Midwest expansion
  9. Meet the Michigan Native Known for His Palm Beach Landscapes
    Keith Williams’ inherent knack for landscaping blossomed from his Bloomfield Hills yard
  10. A-List: Rainy Day Essentials
    April showers bring waterproof makeup, wardrobe essentials in glossy finishes