Julie Lamb arranges a supply order with one of stone sources in NYC’s diamond district. Photo by Eugene Y. Santos
It was a rainy Monday morning in New York City, and Julie Lamb was on a roll, hopping from one appointment to another in midtown Manhattan’s diamond district, meeting jewelry setters and stone suppliers for her eponymous accessories line. For her, bad weather can stop her business.
Not at that time, or any day in the near future. Not now when finally, she is building a name for herself in New York City, and hopefully, the rest of the world, too.
And she’s not alone.
For many designers, New York City is seen as a boot camp for a career in fashion. While it’s competitive and expensive, designers like Lamb opted to professionally stay in the city for two main benefits: connections (fashion retailers and press) and accessibility (the suppliers and labor that can be utilized and outsourced in the garment and diamond districts).
“I like the fact that everything’s within reach in the city,” said Lamb. “It’s nice that I can just walk into someone’s shop and personally keep track on how my products are made.”
It’s been two years since Lamb ventured into entrepreneurship. A decade ago, her younger self would have balked at the idea of being a businesswoman, considering math isn’t her best suit. She was a creative, and she appreciated the corporate stability offered by employers like Nine West jewelry and Avon.
“After many years of working though, it came to a point where I just didn’t want to report to a boss,” she said. “I talked to my brother about it and he said that the only way I can work for myself was if I started my own accessories line.”
In 2014, Lamb launched her own jewelry brand, consisting of a lineup of accessories made with gold, silver, and diamonds, with a cutesy sheep pendant or engraving as a signature.
For Lamb’s friend Kia Felty, the designer’s strength lies in her fun approach to fine jewelry.
“There is a desire for fun, fine jewelry that can be worn everyday and are well-crafted enough to be passed on to the next generation,” said Felty. “Julie’s brand is headed into that positive direction.”
The brand has been warmly received by both jewelry insiders and press, although for Lamb, it’s just one facet of what makes a success story in New York City.
In an ephemeral industry like fashion, Lamb learned that designers should keep an open mind—and a keen foresight—in the city that never sleeps.
“I don’t have a business degree so I can say that experience is the best teacher,” said Lamb, who is now active in the Women’s Jewelry Association (WJA), an organization that helps jewelry designers develop their business savvy through networking events, learning workshops, among others. “There’s so much going on in this industry that I just talk to and learn from everyone.”
It also helps to be alert in social media. In Lamb’s case, you never know who is going to come around to even expand your horizons outside New York City.
To be exact, Lamb has been virtually acquainted with jeweler Andrea Riso, one of the retail brains behind Talisman Collection, a gallery concept store based in El Dorado Hills, CA.
After a year of liking and casually leaving comments on each other’s posts on social media, Lamb sent Riso a formal message about what her jewelry line is about. Riso then reverted back, saying that she’s interested to work out a deal with Lamb.
“She also sent me a list of people I can talk to,” said Lamb. “It feels very nice, as right now, I’m in the process of contacting different retailers to get my jewelry out into various selling points outside New York City. It’s a matter of slowly getting my name out there more.”
The New York City Department of City Planning’s model of the proposed rezoned Bay Street Corridor. The buildings on the left are intended to be taller-scale residential units with a percentage of units set aside for affordable housing. Photo by Dale Isip
Wearing glasses and a fitted cap, Ephraim Diggs sat relaxed at a table in a busy Staten Island presentation hall waiting to hear about the rezoning plans that would bring big changes to his borough.
“I’m giving it another year,” Diggs of Staten Island said. “If I see that it’s getting overcrowded, I’m moving, I’m getting out.”
But New York’s current rezoning plans for affordable housing extends far beyond the borough. Staten Island is just one part.
On February 18th and 20th, residents of Staten Island’s North Shore – those of the Tompkinsville, St. George, and Stapleton neighborhoods – listened to presentations on the area by the Department of City Planning (DCP) and the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) and participated in question-and-answer sessions for a zoning area one-half mile south of the Staten Island Ferry Terminal, what city agencies refer to as the “Bay Street Corridor”.
“There is a billion dollars worth of public and private investment coming to this neighborhood now,” said Len Garcia-Duran, director of DCP’s Staten Island office, “We’ve got an opportunity for new residential within walking distances of the ferry terminal in downtown Manhattan, that would attract a lot of folks who are being priced out of Manhattan.”
The area extends from Victory Boulevard in Tompkinsville to Sands Street in Stapleton. The area has a significant width, as it spans between Bay Street and Van Duzer Streets, two thoroughfares on Staten Island’s North Shore. It is currently a manufacturing district, and has been since 1961. City agencies including the DCP and the NYCEDC have held several meetings with the public in regards to proposed changes to the area’s development zone status.
A key issue around the rezoning is the conflict between what residents see as a potential for gentrification and over-development, combined with the city’s insistence that the rezoning would provide required affordable housing in the area.
“In Williamsburg and other areas, they all have affordable housing components voluntarily,” said Garcia-Duran. “What we’re trying to do is demonstrate how we can get new private development done here on Staten Island, with a required affordable housing component.”
In 2005, the neighborhoods of Williamsburg and Greenpoint faced a similar proposed rezoning. Residents of those neighborhoods negotiated a residential neighborhood and park zone, out of a proposed power plant. But according to some residents, the city has not held to its agreement to set aside adequate park space for the area. Those neighborhoods have since been a place of residential development, albeit with a significant population increase.
“The Williamsburg-Greenpoint rezoning is now held up as what not to do, how not to rezone a community.” said Jens Rasmussen, a community activist and resident of Greenpoint. “If the rezoning is anything like what’s happened here, it will irrevocably change the character of your neighborhood.”
Under Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing plan, developers building in rezoned areas would be required to set aside a certain percentage of new units for affordable housing. Because of a community-level resistance to high-density developments, the plan has been rejected at the borough board level on Staten Island. It is also currently facing opposition in the New York City Council for similar, though not entirely identical reasons.
The rezoning phenomenon is currently city-wide, to accommodate for Mayor de Blasio’s proposed 200,000 units of affordable housing. The recent rezoning of East Harlem, for example, is indicative of a process that took months to accomplish.
Back in Staten Island, some residents fear development will affect rent and the nature of businesses in the area.
“At the moment [the Bay Street Corridor] is underutilized, so I think it would be nice to see that strip be more active,” said DB Lampman, artist and co-founder of Staten Island MakerSpace in Stapleton. “We just don’t want to see all the manufacturing being lost.”
In conjunction with projects such as the currently developing New York Wheel and Urby Staten Island, other residents saw the potential for traffic and population density issues along a rezoned Bay Street Corridor.
“I live over there by the ferris wheel – they’re renovating our lot, and they’re renovating the ferry,” said Diggs, a St. George resident. “There’s a lot of building going on. I understand what they are trying to do, to build and upgrade, but in the long run there is going to be overcrowding.”
Some residents don’t want to see this happen on Staten Island.
“I think this Mayor wants more affordable housing,” said Ed Pollio, co-founder of the 5050 Skatepark in Stapleton. “My concern is, if he’s reelected, is he going to push this through without community support? … I don’t think Staten Island is ready for what’s going to happen on the North Shore.”
Jeweler Julie Lamb is an advocate of New York-based manufacturing. Photo by Eugene Santos.
New Yorker Julie Lamb is a savvy businesswoman. Two years ago, she decided that it would be nice to manufacture her eponymous jewelry line in New York City.
“It makes for a nice story,” she said. “I like the idea of having something ‘Made in New York’ by a New Yorker.”
It sounds alluring, but for Lamb, the “Made in New York” label is not just a marketing ploy.
“I’m also very hands-on with my business and I can be a control freak,” said Lamb. “In New York City, I like how I can easily check where I get my materials from. I also don’t like the idea of traveling far when it comes to overseeing the manufacturing process of my merchandise.”
Lamb doesn’t mass produce her goods and designers like her, who work on limited edition merchandise, opt to manufacture in New York City, mostly for quality control and easy accessibility.
“All of my bags are handmade and are order-based so I don’t have to mass produce,” said handbag designer Jill Haber on why she manufactures in New York City. “I have total control in every step of the bag making process. I can easily go to the workroom when I need to. Plus, I also want to have a workplace that’s close to my home and family.”
For big fashion businesses, manufacturing abroad can be cheaper, especially if done by the thousands. Last year, the United States Fashion Industry Association released a study stating that US fashion companies will still continue to source from countries like China and Bangladesh, as “larger companies seem to have a more diversified sourcing base than smaller companies.”
But for businesswomen like Lamb and Haber, who manufacture goods mostly on a two-digit basis per design or style, it’s still less costly to produce and source in New York City.
Designer Rachel Gregory of Gregory Apparel said there are also other expenses to consider when outsourcing abroad, like air travel, shipping, and customs.
“When you’re manufacturing by the thousands, it may be cheaper to manufacture outside the US,” said Gregory. “But if you’re like me, who just makes about 20 to 30 pieces per design, it’s more affordable to produce in New York City.”
Another advantage of being based in New York City is that it’s easier to translate and materialize design ideas into actual merchandise.
“My factory is just a few steps away from my design office in midtown so sewers and garment makers can just call me and I can easily drop by to check and solve any problems if ever,” said Gregory. “The problem with being far from your manufacturers is that things can get lost in translation. For example, if you’re corresponding to factory workers from across the globe online, there’s a chance that they won’t even tell you in time if something’s going wrong already.”
The designers admit though that business can still be expensive in New York City. Resources and labor can be two to four times pricier than other countries, said Lamb.
But as a major fashion capital, New York City can give important business connections to local designers, especially the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) and the Made in New York fashion initiative.
Although since New York City’s fashion scene is competitive, building contacts can be challenging itself, which doesn’t guarantee immediate success in the industry.
“The CFDA is by-invitation only,” said Gregory. “Meanwhile, the Made in New York initiative requires designers to have insurance and an existing retail partner and I don’t have those yet.”
Gregory, Lamb, and Haber are not yet part of the CFDA and Made in New York.
The three remain optimistic in the city though, to varying degrees.
Haber’s handbags are sold by different stores in territories like the UAE and the United Kingdom. Just recently, she launched her latest accessories collection during the recently held New York Fashion Week.
Meanwhile, Gregory is now rethinking her business strategies, since she still doesn’t have a retail partner yet.
“My strength for now is in catering to individual customers than retailers,” said Gregory. “I should also get myself out there more and focus better on social media.”
For her business, Lamb sells her jewelry online and is now just collaborating with select retailers like Reinhold Jewelers in Puerto Rico.
“I’m definitely open to partnering with big department stores someday,” said Lamb. “But for now, small and independent stores give me more business leeway than they.”
Most New Yorkers find Stuyvesant Town to be easily recognizable. Nestled away in Manhattan, with Gramercy to the west, The Lower east side to the south and the East River, well to the east, this post WWII complex serves as workplace and home for many, like David Smith an electrician, and Dana, Marcia, and Jessica old and new residents.
The busy, but quiet neighborhood is abuzz with recent news of the 65-year-old complex receiving a new owner. The Blackstone Group purchased the 80 acres of property for $5.3 billion backed by Fannie Mae in the form of a $2.7 billion credit. The news brings up memories and desired changes since Tishman Speyer gained ownership 9 years prior.
Mayor Deblasio guaranteed 5000 affordable units. 500 of the 5000 will be reserved to families making under $62,000 annually. The other 4,500 units will be for families making up to $128,000 a year. An additional 1,400 units now have their rents regulated until 2025. Dana, Marcia, and Jessica all qualify for these types of apartments. And according to StuyTown they shouldn’t expect to see any increases due to Rent Stabilization Laws agreed to in their leases.
On June 29th, 2015, Alejandro Garcia, the governor of Puerto Rico, announced that Puerto Rico could not pay their $73 billion dollar debt.
The failure to pay this debt has negatively impacted the citizen’s living on the island, and those living in the states that may have family members or relatives living there. Jobs and food are scarce, and schools and hospitals are being shut down due to the lack of finances to sustain these institutions. As a result, many Puerto Ricans are fleeing the island, and migrating to America’s major cities like Florida and New York, to escape the hardships of the economic crisis.
Though the migration to America from Puerto Rico adds more complications to the economic crisis, the biggest complication is the migration of Puerto Rico’s young population. Students who see no hope in continuing their education in Puerto Rico, are leaving their original universities and colleges, and transferring to study in American institutions instead. Many believe that their chances of obtaining a quality job with their degree are much greater in America.
The Puerto Ricans living in America, are not only raising awareness to the conditions that many Puerto Ricans on the island are being subjected to, but also raising awareness to the American government’s involvement in the crisis as well. Groups like A Call To Action Puerto Rico and the New York Community for Change (NYCC), have rallied and protested on Wall Street. These groups also plan community meetings to inform Puerto Ricans of what is going on in Puerto Rico, and to find ways to evoke change in the economic crisis.
After a Three Year Legal Battle Coney Island Community Gardeners Take Real Estate Developers to Court for One Last Time
At 5 a.m. on December 28th, 2013, Yuri Opendik, 36, woke to a frantic call from a fellow gardener. The New York City Council sold the Coney Island’s Boardwalk Community Garden nine days earlier. The land where Opendik had, for seven years, grown food for his family was cleared in the middle of the night. Land, stewarded by neighbors, was scraped to make way for a 5,000-seat, $53 million amphitheater built by iStar Financial.
“It was heart breaking,” said Opendik, describing the scene. “There was a police car there preventing us from coming even close to the entrance to the garden, so they had excavators . . . bulldozers, and they were just going at it. It was still dark, they had projector lights, and they were just destroying.”
On December 14th, after two years of delays, the gardeners met with the City, and iStar, in court, to regain their garden, or at least replace it. Now, the judge is reviewing the arguments and evidence, before announcing whether the case goes to jury trial.
“With the mounting of the lawsuit, folks had a sense that people are fighting with us and for us,” said Ray Figueroa, president of the New York City Community Gardening Coalition. “It was a blow to be bulldozed, and then it was a blow not to hear your grievances in a timely fashion.”
The decision to develop the land was driven by City of New York changing the neighborhood.
In 2009, the City rezoned Coney Island’s former amusement area, for redevelopment, and the garden fell within that area, according to the municipal website.
“Coney Island cannot become a year-round destination, with jobs and economic opportunity for its residents, without infrastructure and transportation improvements,” Coney Island Council member Mark Treyger told the New York Daily News.
At 13% unemployment, Coney Island is 4% over Brooklyn’s average. Its 2013 murder rate on par with Brownsville, a New York neighborhood famous for its violence. Residents have an average income of $31,000.
“We hope the Amphitheater is a catalyst for a neighborhood resurgence,” said Julia Butler, vice president at iStar Financial, in a statement. “Neighborhood programming from movie nights and poetry slams to high school graduations and community theater performances are all envisioned for the Amphitheater.”
The gardeners have priorities removed from the City’s.
“A lot of our gardeners really depended on the garden for food,” said Carolyn McCrory, a gardener at the Boardwalk Garden. “The most important part of all of this journey is for our gardeners to regroup and find an additional parcel of land.”
The City relocated the gardeners to the existing Surfside Community Garden. For the gardeners present at the court that morning, it could not replace the Boardwalk Community Garden.
For the gardeners present at the court that morning, it could not replace the Boardwalk Community Garden.
“It is not a garden for me,” said Opendik , talking about the Surfside garden. “There is a lot of concrete, and it is surrounded by buildings. I don’t think that there is enough sunlight to grow vegetables.”
And on December 14th, after nearly two years of failed mediation, abortive attempts to start the case, and judges recusing themselves, a group of gardeners from Coney Island and advocates from around the city met on the steps of the Kings County Supreme Court in downtown Brooklyn.
Inside the courtroom, Judge Peter Sweeney called the three lawyers – for the garden, of the city attorney’s office, and for iStar – to his bench. The gardeners leaned forward on the hardwood benches to hear the muffled debate, until the judge announced that he would hear the case that afternoon.
When the lawyers re-assembled, they brought arms full of documents supporting their positions.
The gardeners’ argued that the City did not have authority to sell, because the land was under the jurisdiction of the NYC Parks Department, arguing it could only be sold by a vote by the NY state assembly.
The City and developer’s argue that because the land is a “Greenthumb” site, it is explicitly temporary. Greenthumb is a city program that provides support to over 600 gardens.
“Greenthumb was where you could park land for interim use,” said Henry J. Stern, the Park Commissioner in 1997, to a reporter. “These were sites of abandoned buildings that were torn down, leaving a gaptooth in the block.”
The Boardwalk Community Garden was created in 1997, when eight Coney Island Gardens were turned into private developments.
“We are claiming that it is implied parkland,” said Joel Kupferman, the lawyer representing the gardeners’ claims, Director of the New York Environmental Law and Justice Project. “We believe that we fulfill Glick rules for what is implied parkland.”
On June 30th, the New York Court of Appeals decided on Glick v. Harvey, concerning the development of community gardens by New York University’s expansion. The court ruled in favor of NYU, citing the “refus[al] [of] various requests to have the streets demapped and re-dedicated as parkland.”
The Glick rule is that to be parkland, the City must have intended it. The gardeners argue that differences between the Boardwalk Community Garden and the land in Glick show intent. For instance, the land in Glick was under the Department of Transportation, and the Boardwalk Community Garden was under the Department of Parks.
Having heard the arguments, Judge Sweeney will rule on whether the case will go to jury trial.
For the gardeners, this means more waiting. They punctuated their day in the courthouse with a group hug.
“It was a community (the garden), African American, Mexican, from Puerto Rico, Russian, Ukrainian, from everywhere, very friendly,” Aleksandr Sokolov, Coney Island resident and Russian immigrant. “And they ruined our community.”
By Natasha Abellard
In Park Slope, Brooklyn supporters express admiration for 2015 marathon runners and their causes.