Behind the Scenes: The Product Specialist

Completely missed this piece in the NYTimes from last week, but I’m glad I came across it today. Cathy Horyn writes about Cindy Ferrara, a clothing industry veteran who tells a story of how garment manufacturing and production has changed over the past several decades.

Once again, models are ready to strut and designers take their bows in the latest reenactment of the emperor’s new clothes. The back story of New York Fashion Week is far more interesting: an industry in turmoil, the drastic loss of local factories and suppliers, the manufacturing dominance of China and other countries, the gradual decline of technical expertise in the face of apparent consumer indifference about fit and quality. As usual, the story goes well beyond the limited world of runway collections.

Recently, over a meal at Ben’s deli on W. 38th Street, I spoke to Cindy Ferrara, a veteran production specialist, about her job and how the work has changed. The wingspan of her career is enormous. Now manager of product development and production at Danskin, a Moret Group brand, Ms. Ferrara first came to New York in the early 70s to buy fabrics for a shirt company she started as an Iowa college student. She learned her craft from experience, seizing opportunities as they came along—Bendel’s Studio, cutting coats for a furrier. She made her first production trips to China and Korea in the early 80s, for a now-defunct silk clothing label. She then spent 11 years on the production side of Liz Claiborne, initially with its dress division. She has seen the close of one era — the garment made and sold in the Garment District — and now, she says, she is seeing the end of another — the shift of technical skill, and gradually even design and merchandising, to other countries, mainly China. Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation. I’ve kept it long because I feel what Ms. Ferrara has to say is worthwhile.

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