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Nanette Lepore Headshot

Save the Garment Center

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When I grew up, if we needed a house, we built it. My Italian grandfather was a bricklayer and my Irish grandfather a carpenter. Grandpa Lepore and his brothers built homes and motels; laying the brick with fine precision. Grandpa McGarry built all the furniture I grew up with, inspired by the best in Scandinavian design at my mother's request. My grandparents immigrated to America and like immigrants often do, they brought their craft with them, and our country was enriched by it.

When I was in high school, my parents decided to build their dream house, modern and expansive, in a rural area of Youngstown, Ohio. That summer, my brother and sister helped build the house with my father, his brothers, Raymond and Henry, Grandpa Lepore, Uncle Joe, and various relatives that would make an appearance to work their area of expertise. The house of cedar had as the centerpiece an amazingly beautiful brick wall of rustic, oversized bricks salvaged from an old steel refractory. They were all craftsmen at work with a legacy of pride in creating. Toward the end, when the house was roughed in, Grandpa McGarry and his son, Bob, installed beautiful oak cabinets that had been built at Grandpa's workshop. He even designed an intricate parquet for behind the cabinets, like the surprise of a beautiful lining in a coat.

That summer I didn't go to the building site very often, choosing instead to stay at home and sew. It was a form of rebellion against moving to what I perceived to be a backwater country school. Now as an adult I realize that all the heart and skill that went into building our home made it a place to be proud of!

I often think about the impact my family craftsmanship had on me. It gave me the tools I need to create and be fearless without limitations. Knowing that one has the potential to build something from a pile of raw materials is empowering. It's a gift that our children might not receive.

Eighty percent of my products are made in America in a 10 block radius from my office in New York City's Garment Center. They are assembled by skilled craftsmen who also immigrated here with a trade just like my family. I treasure being able to watch my product develop from a roll of fabric into a beautiful garment hanging in a shop. That garment was designed in my studio on 35th street, the pattern digitized on 38th street, then passed to a cutter around the corner, then bins of cut work trundled to a factory on 39th street, to then be sewn together. All the while each step being closely monitored by my staff.

My company alone keeps about 10 factories busy. Those factories make up about 300 jobs in New York City. However, the landlords, the restaurant and hotel union, and the developers want to annihilate our 100 year old Garment Center. Their vision is one sprawling, mall-type maze, from Time Square to Macy's. The homogenizing and "mall-i-fying" of our city continues. The landlords are pushing hard against the city to free up the New York City Garment Center zoning.

But what of the pride of a nation that can create its own goods? What of the fate of the designers, manufacturers and tradesmen who set up shop in the Garment Center? Who decides these businesses are not important? Fashion and it's spin offs are important to the NYC economy. There has never been a more critical time to buy American made products.

Let's show the politicians that we are invested in saving our country's manufacturing system! Send your comments to Mayor Bloomberg's office. Take a stand!