Off the Cuff with Manufacture New York Founder Bob Bland

From its state-of-the-art buildings to its gourmet street food scene, the very same things that make New York City a treat to visit also makes it one of the most priciest place to live and build a business. Manufacturer New York Founder Bob Bland and her network of forward-thinking designers and innovators seek to change that for the fashion community.
“The main thing that’s stopping us in New York City is affordable space and cost of living,” Bland said.
As a designer and entrepreneur herself, Bland understands the roadblocks that prohibit most emerging designers from getting their ideas off the ground in the one of world’s most expensive cities. Designers in New York are working in a low margin industry, and yet the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the city is $3,100. However, Bland pointed out that it’s not just a fashion problem—it’s citywide.
When Bland organized Manufacture New York in 2012, she sought to create a collaborative effort of industry leaders to mentor, train and supply designers with affordable and dependable domestic production resources. Most designers receive their initial training in New York. Bland believes they should have the opportunity to stay and do business in New York.
“There’s a tremendous opportunity for textile sourcing and production to come back in New York City, and that is why NYC Textile Week is important. You need to give designers as many opportunities and point of views as possible in sourcing,” Bland explained. She noted that the best sourcing decisions happen when the actual designer can touch fabrics and learn from suppliers.
Over the years, Bland said it’s become increasingly difficult to keep the fashion industry in New York as contractors have been forced to close doors due to increased rent costs. “Creative industries have lost market share in New York City,” Bland said. “We have all of the talent, but we need to do more to provide more incentive to do business here and to gain more investment by established leaders in the industry.”
Manufacture New York has been on the receiving end of such investments. In September 2014, the incubator was awarded a $50,000 grant as part of the Obama administration Growth Accelerator Fund, which was contributed to assist local startups. A few months later, New York City pledged to invest $3.5 million in the creation of the Manufacturing Innovation Hub for Apparel, Textile and Wearable Tech. Manufacture New York will occupy the building’s fifth floor and assist with its training programs that will prepare workers to earn well-paying jobs in the fashion sector, as well as house private studios, an industrial sewing room, a small-run factory for sample-making and provide a research center for advancements in wearable technology.
Historically, Bland said New York City has been known for incredible pattern makers, fit and a commitment to high-end design and ready-to-wear. While those skills remain crucial to succeeding in the global apparel business, Bland sees a unique opportunity to capitalize on the Garment District’s proximity to New York’s technology sector.
No other city in the world has as many fashion and technology companies in the same zip code. “We can take advantage these tech companies and startups and actually create win-win partnerships that would enrich fashion and make the industry more appealing to Millennials and generations to come,” Bland said.