Fashion Students Experience Industry Up Close

On a recent rainy day in Manhattan, a small group of students from Carmen Galiano’s Fashion Design & Merchandising Program crowded into a 5th floor garment factory space where sewing machines and yards of fabric crowd the space.

Johnny Wu Designs is one of a small group of companies that continues to serve New York’s fashion industry, despite high rents and labor costs. Owner Johnny Wu insists on keeping his business in the New York area, providing patterns, high-end samples, duplicates and small production items to over 200 new and emerging designers and apparel companies, including The Levi Group, Nieves Lavi and Coren Moore.

Students walked around the factory floor observing workers as they cut patterns and operated single needle lockstitch sewing machines with a special presser foot for leather and heavier thread. The students also saw workers use industrial sergers and hemmers, which create the seam finishes and hems that are most common on mass-produced clothing, especially knitwear.  

“You see how fast you can on go on these machines,” Ms. Galiano pointed out to her students as they watched an operator glide the machine’s needle over a seam.

Ms. Galiano’s classroom has four such industrial sewing machines, which the students will begin to work on later this semester.

“This is a big education for us, to see how things are mass produced,” said Ms. Galiano. "It is important for up-and-coming designers to know that we can still make clothing here in this country, especially in New York, the fashion capital."

Ms. Galiano said new campaigns funded by New York City to promote garment production here are underway. "I told Johnny that I appreciated his tour for my students' education and hoped that one day these students will be the designers bringing work right back to his doors."

Junior Malaika Nasimok of Ardsley High School said the class trip was an invaluable lesson for her.

“You don’t always get to see this side of the fashion world,” said Malaika, referring to the hard work that goes on behind the scenes.

After completing the factory tour, the group moved on to The Museum at FIT to view three exhibits, including “Black Fashion Designers,” which highlighted a broad and diverse range of influences and time periods, from the designer who made Jackie Kennedy's wedding dress to African-inspired clothing, French couture evening wear, British fine menswear tailoring, to street style that expressed political activism such as the anti-Apartheid movement and hip-hop culture.

The students also viewed two other exhibits at the museum, “Paris Refashioned, 1957-1968”and “Adrian: Hollywood and Beyond.”