Fashion’s Morning Out: A Breakfast Conversation On Made in L.A.

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Some of L.A.’s most stylish citizens made their way to Kate Mantilini in Beverly Hills this morning for our most â la mode Breakfast Conversation yet: an in-depth look at the city’s booming apparel manufacturing business, sponsored by the Art Center College of Design.  The panel discussion focused on what we can hope to expect from the growing industry and was tied to Los Angeles magazine’s November fashion feature, Made in L.A.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who spoke briefly before the panel discussion got underway, cleared the air about his eyebrow-raising attendance with a friendly jab in our direction (things had been a bit chilly between him and the magazine since we published this critical—and controversial—cover in June 2009), then poked fun at his own wardrobe. “You all dress so well because you’re in the fashion industry,” he said.  “Someone walked up to me and said, ‘I need to dress you when you go to Washington.’ So I guess that I didn’t do too well this morning.”

The mayor was in attendance because, like the magazine, he wanted to tout the benefits of supporting designers who manufacture their products in L.A. “L.A. is the city where the world comes together,” he said. “There are more manufacturing and apparel jobs here in L.A. than in any other city.  It’s an industry about $13 billion strong [with] 100,000 people. About 80% of California showrooms are downtown, so this is a unique L.A. industry in many ways as much as film is.”

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Our three panelists seemed to agree.  Moderated by senior editor Linda Immediato, local designers and manufacturers Samuel Ku (AG Adriano Goldschmeid), Calleen Cordero (Calleen Cordero Designs), and John McDavid Lehman (R.B. of McD) weighed in on the current state of the fashion industry and vocalized their hopes for its future.  “What we’re lacking here in L.A. is exposure,” Lehman said.  “We don’t get the same exposure that New York does, and that’s very important. But this conversation is one of many steps that’s really important for L.A. to regenerate its face in fashion.”

Ku emphasized the need to keep manufacturing local to bolster the economy and the industry. “Overall I feel pretty positive about manufacturing in L.A.,” he said.  “A lot of important brands are based here and a lot of them still manufacture here as well. As long as it remains important to brands that we keep jobs and manufacturing here, I think we’ll continue to be a big part of the apparel business.”

Guests in the audience—which included Kelsi Smith of the Los Angeles Fashion Council, Jered Gold of the Art Center College of Design, and a slew of up-and-coming designers—also felt optimistic about what the fashion industry is doing for our city. Michael Kelly of the L.A. Coalition cited a 2011 report from Price Waterhouse Coopers in which Los Angeles ranked 6th for intellectual capital and innovation, 2nd for work/life cost, and the best overall city for entrepreneurial environment.  “The creative economy is a significant part of L.A.’s economy, particularly the apparel industry,” he said before the panel discussion.  “I think it’s something we can be globally competitive in and make sure that we grow so we can continue to create jobs.” 

“The overarching thing we’ve heard here today is a commitment to quality, keeping jobs in L.A., and making things that last,” said Immediato. What’s important now is making sure that civic pride and industry awareness stays in vogue. 

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