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Gravitas Launching the Factory Project Collection to Help New York’s Garment Center

Rosemary Feitelberg
·4 min read

With its first capsule collection called “The Factory Project,” Gravitas is trying to keep New York City Garment Center workers employed.

Online shoppers can read about the locally made goods and how 100 percent of the cost to produce the bags will go to the community. Gravitas founder Lisa Sun aims to show the reverberating effect of dollars spent on a small community.

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”If we decide to look out for ourselves right now, the entire industry will collapse. We’ve got to stick together,” she said.

The direct-to-consumer purchases of the five-piece Factory Project collection will be shipped in 10 days, with the idea being that each purchase saves jobs in the Garment District.

Rooted in women’s workwear (not an easy sell with so many displaced workers due to the pandemic), Gravitas has realigned to offer items that people need now. Rather than create boardroom-appropriate dresses, Gravitas has created water-resistant bags like a crossbody one and a tote.

Analyzing the numbers, Sun deduced such figures as the purchase of one tote bag saves a seamstress’ job by three hours. Buying all five pieces would save the worker’s job by an entire day, Sun said. Fifty-eight other people at different companies in the Garment District make money for each purchase beyond Gravitas’ eight-person team. They in turn pay their employees, who pay for groceries and support local shops with the money they earn, Sun said.

Last spring Gravitas decided to make all of its collections in New York. Having worked with Superb Stitch’s Michael Lee for seven years, Sun said he shelved his retirement plans to help her. Lee, who has worked with Nicole Miller and Anna Sui, among other designers, used to have 170 workers and now has eight, an indicator of the decline in local manufacturing. In addition to providing guaranteed volume each month, Gravitas and Superb Stitch will be moving into a 4,500-square-foot shared workspace on West 39th Street on Monday.

The two parties will share rent and expenses for utilities but they continue to operate under their own names. Noting how three of the five factories that were housed on the same floor in her current building have gone out of business, Sun spoke of the importance of helping to revive local production. In the building that she is moving into next week, 10 other factories need work, she said, adding that sharing resources is essential to supporting the Garment Center. Sun said she and Lee are willing to help as many designers and brands that want to produce in New York figure out a way to do so.

Learning to switch things up is essential during these unsteady times and Gravitas’ resilience sprang from a certain amount of necessity. Gravitas’ Black Friday sales, for example, were 20 percent of what was projected, according to Sun. Rather than use the stretch velvet that was purchased for a holiday evening wear collection, Gravitas used it for loungewear. The samples were made in a day, a shoot was also done in a day, and the loungewear was offered online with a 14-day pre-order.

“It saved our business. Michael and another factory produced 300 units in less than 10 business days, and we made our Christmas deliveries,” Sun said. “I said, ‘Hey guys, maybe this is the future of the Garment District. Maybe we move to an on-demand manufacturing model that saves our businesses. If you can’t predict if consumers are going to buy something, let’s use the capacity that we have and reinvent what the Garment District stands for.”

Producing “tiny capsules” every four to six weeks like a streetwear brand drop would be a more effective way to keep $22-an-hour sewers going, Sun said. With fashion weeks having gone virtual, most of these workers can no longer depend on making extra money for samples production in July and August, and in January and February.

Gravitas also pivoted last spring to produce face masks and medical gowns. Gravitas pledged to donate a medical mask to hospitals for each mask purchased. To date, 225,000 medical masks have been donated. To help with the shortage of medical gowns last year, Gravitas produced some overseas.