Nanette Lepore: Made in the USA Fashion

Nanette Lepore Display

by Jasmine Bager, Reporter

Armed with a needle and thread, world-renowned fashion designer Nanette Lepore aims to boost domestic employment­—one stitch at a time. While her peers are sending their designs to be manufactured abroad to places like China and India, Nanette Lepore is staying local.

Born in Ohio and armed with a $5,000 loan from her father, Nanette Lepore came to NYC with a dream and a plan. She opened her first store and started to get involved with local manufacturing right away. Now in the business for more than two decades, she has resisted the acute temptation to shift her factory abroad. Even with the faltering economy here at home, and the loss of jobs in the local garment industry, she continues to manufacture eighty five percent of her designs not too far from her New York office. Her luxurious women’s apparel line, designer shoes, handbags, accessories and swimwear are known to be polished, fun, bold and romantic, all at the same time.

With the current renaissance of consumer awareness, more and more Americans are asking where their products are made, and by whom. Recent tragedies in Bangladeshi garment factories have sparked fear and outrage at the way manufacturing standards are inconsistent—and dangerous—overseas. The Garment District, located in Midtown Manhattan, has been a creative hub for American textiles since the early 1900s. According to Save the Garment Center, a local non-profit dedicated to preserving the American garment industry, “In 1960, 95 percent of clothing sold in the US was manufactured in the Garment Center, now that number has decreased to approximately 3 percent.” Currently, there are 856 fashion companies headquartered in New York, more than those in London, Paris and Milan combined. Nanette Lepore hopes that these big bucks will revive American fashion, which is losing its luster. And she is starting with her own company.

The Nanette Lepore brand has been displaying at the Mercedez-Benz FashionWeek at The Lincoln Center for years, and before that, when it was held in Bryant Park. The actual FashionWeek festivities began in World War II, to persuade local journalists to report on American style. Now, Nanette Lepore’s designs are promoting the same thing today. Her models still swoosh down the runways in intricate high-end garments and buyers sell those pieces at their stores, but she has a bigger goal in mind. With stores in SoHo and the Upper East Side in NYC, the Nanette Lepore designs are also sold in LA, Bal Harbour (Florida), Las Vegas, Boston and Tokyo—and online. This way, there are many opportunities for fashion lovers to appreciate and wear her American-made designs.

With such close proximity, Nanette Lepore translates her vision to her employees at her fabric factory, without having a geographical border or language barrier. The convenience of having a factory in the neighborhood saves her time, energy and money—and it is better for the environment. The convenient location means that she can visit the factory multiple times per day and correct any problems immediately. She also re-produces popular styles quickly. This helps her keep up with demand and really focus on what is important to her customers—quality and design.

Longtime freelance fashion photographer, Robert Hicks, says that he is concerned with the future of American manufacturing at the Garment District and appreciates Nanette Lepore’s vision. “We don’t make anything in this country anymore. We design, ship it and then bring it back. It just ain’t the same.”

Erica Wolf, the director of special projects at Nanette Lepore and the executive director of “Save The Garment Center,” agrees. Wolf recently was a speaker at the Made in America Project panel at SxSW event in Austin, TX, where she continued to promote the Nanette Lepore vision.

“With products made in the USA, the designer wins, the factory wins and the consumer wins,” she said.

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