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The Staggering Economics Behind New York Fashion Week

Image via Getty
Image via Getty

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In case you've been outside the reaches of the fashion blogosphere lately, New York Fashion Week is just around the corner and everyone's gearing up for the shows. already launched its trend predictions for next season (normcore body!) and the "What to Wear to Fashion Week" guides are hitting the web with a vengeance.

But for designers—the ones that we've all gathered to watch—NYFW can be the hardest time of the year. We spoke with Bob Bland, the CEO of Manufacture NY, to get an inside look at what it costs and why sometimes it's worth it just to skip the show.

Manufacture NY, a company dedicated to supporting emerging designers, just pulled off its first slate of shows through an initiative called Launch NY that debuted during NYFW last season. For Bland, it was an eye-opening experience. "What I saw was unless you already came from money or were a celebrity, it was really difficult," she told Racked. "And how many of us are celebrities or come from a ton of money? It's pretty fair to say that virtually every fashion designer who is starting their own company is probably not getting the support they need."

And the price tag on that support is staggering. "The production costs are extremely high," Bland said. "At the Lincoln Center shows, the lighting racks alone cost $40,000. Our lights cost at least $25,000, and I think that was a deal."

Bland provided a list of everything that Manufacture NY covered for its shows last season: hair, makeup, shoes, cameras, lights, the physical runway, backdrops, sound equipment, security, models, cleaning, camera operators, in-house photographers, a director for the show, sample development, front-of-house equipment and staff, pipe and drape, invitations, seating, and a DJ. The entire expense came out to $100,000.

For big brands that are well-established, $100,000 can seem like pennies. In 2011, the New York Times reported that the Marc Jacobs show cost at least $1 million, which breaks down to about $1,750 per each second of the show. Last season, Fashionista estimated that $200,000 was a reasonable amount for brands to expect to pay to pull off a show during NYFW. For context, the International Business Times reported last September that, according to the New York City Economic Development Corporation, NYFW pulls in about $850 million each year for the city. That's almost double what the Super Bowl made for the city when MetLife Stadium hosted the game this past February.

The astronomical costs associated with NYFW obviously make it harder and harder for young designers to get their foot in the door. One solution? Asking big brands to support the smaller guys. "Established brands should be willing to pay a little bit more so that newer brands can pay a little bit less and have a chance," said Bland. "Take for example my line, Brooklyn Royalty. It's been in business seven years. I've done four or five fashion weeks. I have my pictures, I have trust, I have my sales. I would be willing to pay five grand or seven grand for a show so that a brand new designer in their first or second season could pay $2,000."

On the other hand, maybe it's worth it to rethink brand strategy and acknowledge that Fashion Week isn't the end-all, be-all sign of achievement for a designer. "You don't have to have a NYFW show every season to have a successful line, and it really is dependent on what your line is about," Bland said. "Are you doing really fancy evening wear, or is it some crazy jewelry line where you can't really see it unless it's on a person? Well, then that would make a hell of a lot of sense to show at NYFW. If you're doing a nice workwear-inspired menswear line or a line of contemporary womenswear, you can make a killing without doing NYFW."

For those that do aim for Fashion Week, finding ways to fund shows can present a whole set of obstacles. Bland was frank about the struggles that can come with trying to obtain sponsorships to subsidize the costs of showing: "We're still paying off a few people from last Fashion Week because that's how expensive it was. When we had a sponsor pull at the last minute, like a week before, we were left holding the bill."

"After producing our own Fashion Week, we have even more respect for anyone who does that than we did before," Bland continued. "We already knew it was hard, but now we know that everything from the show runners themselves to every single different person who's involved with the production is a skilled artisan in their own right and they all deserve credit for what comes down the runway. They deserve to be compensated well for the work they do, and that's the hardest part."

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