Clothing manufacturing hangs on — barely — in Fashion District
By Elsie Puig
Miami had a big stake in clothing manufacturing decades ago when its Fashion District was thriving. Now, only two clothing manufacturers with a combined 17 employees remain of about 50 companies that once held sway there.
But Capitol Clothing Corp. at 578 NW 27th St. and D'Accord Inc. at 545 NW 28th St. remain novelty brands in Miami and abroad. Although the market is very different, they've been able to continue to manufacture local products and find new customers.
Nationally, apparel manufacture is on the decline. In 2008, 497,100 persons worked in the textile and apparel field in the US, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but the bureau forecast a 47.9% decline in workers by 2018.
According to the Beacon Council, Miami-Dade's economic development arm, despite a rapid decline in manufacturing in general in the county 144 apparel manufacturers still employ 2,221 workers here. But most are far from the Fashion District.
Throughout the 1980s and early '90s, however, that area along the eastern edge of I-95 was a breeding ground for small clothing makers.
During the Venezuelan oil boom, the area was the one-stop shop for Venezuelan fashion retailers who came in to buy whole racks on display and pay as much as $20,000 at a clip, recalls Richard Behar, owner of Capitol Clothing.
But a lot of those businesses saw their market shrink greatly when the Venezuelan currency was devalued.
The larger enclave of the Wynwood Arts District and the wholesale distributors along Fifth Avenue dwarfed this manufacturing hub when the cost of US manufacturing became too high and many decided to ship production overseas.
In the mid 2000s, many empty warehouses were converted to art space — a transformation that last week caught the attention of the New York Times in a real estate report noting the success of developer Tony Goldman in creating a trendy arts hub in Wynwood, spending $35 million there since 2004 for about two dozen buildings.
In the process, real estate values rose.
"The cost of manufacturing here is a lot more expensive," said Mr. Behar, whose company manufactures apparel for boys. "Little by little, some of these companies started going away. Some went offshore, some just dwindled out of business."
The smaller companies couldn't compete with the bigger designer brands that started to offshore their sewing to factories in Asia to make the same product for less.
Capitol Clothing, which manufactures apparel for boys, and D'Accord, which specializes in men's guayaberas and casual shirts, take pride in making everything in the US. They say it also allows them to ensure the quality of the end product.
Together they employ 17 full- and part-time employees and subcontract the sewing to local seamstresses.
Rafael Contreras of D'Accord employed in-house seamstresses before deciding to make them independent contractors.
"We couldn't survive with workers' compensation," Mr. Contreras said. "The cost of having that kind of worker here is kind of expensive."
During the economic downturn, when many retailers cannot afford to buy in advance because they cannot project their sales, they turn to smaller manufacturers like Capitol and D'Accord, who can turn out products in a shorter time frame.
"Today's stores are not buying so much ahead," Mr. Behar said. "If they need a set of items made for two to three weeks we are able to deliver that, whereas an importer, if they don't have what the store is looking for, it could take a couple of months."
Capitol Clothing has clients such as the Walt Disney Co., Xanterra Park and Resorts, La Ideal Baby Store and the Miami Children's Museum. D'Accord sells to J. Bolado Clothiers on Miracle Mile, Burns Limited in Key Biscayne and Zayas Fashions Inc.
Inside D'Accord, a picture of President George H.W. Bush wearing one of the shirts hangs on the wall. In Capitol Clothing, a magazine article captures Prince Michael, son of the late Michael Jackson, wearing one of apparel sets fashioned by Mr. Behar.
But much of the world now has a very different picture of the area: colorful street artists' works commissioned by Mr. Goldman for Art Basel on the exterior walls of former warehouses and manufacturing sites that once created the image of Miami's own Fashion District.