Today, FWD.us and the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) held a joint press conference in New York City to release a new report about the impact of immigration policy on the United States’ fashion industry, and its role in creating American jobs. Speakers included CFDA Chairwoman and renowned fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg, CFDA President and CEO Steven Kolb, FWD.us President Todd Schulte, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, and New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.
Fashion and tech leaders and elected officials highlighted critical policy changes that would aid the innovation economy, promote industry growth, and create opportunities for international designers and investors to come to the U.S. and create American jobs. They also highlighted reforms to address the legal status of the majority foreign-born workforce of seamstresses, tailors, and garment workers, many of whom are undocumented.
“I left Europe and arrived in New York with a baby in my belly and a suitcase full of little dresses made in Italy. With these dresses I lived an American dream,” said renowned fashion designer and CFDA Chairwoman Diane von Furstenberg. “Young people from all over the world come to America in search of those same opportunities, and young people with limitless talent and potential will continue building and innovating in our industry as long as we put in place immigration policies that allow the U.S. to remain a magnet for them.”
“The CFDA’s mission is to strengthen the influence and success of American designers in the global economy,” said CFDA President and CEO Steven Kolb. “In order to continue the U.S.’ success and influence in the fashion industry, we must recruit the best talent from all over the world. If the United States wants to lead the world in fashion innovation, we need immigration policies that embrace the talented foreigners who come here to build and grow.”
“For over a century, immigrants and their children have built world-renowned fashion houses here and created thousands of American jobs,” said FWD.us President Todd Schulte. “We need to reform our immigration laws to protect American workers while boosting our ability to bring in the best and brightest from around the world so we can continue driving the U.S.’ global leadership in fashion and multiple other industries.”
“New York is the fashion capital of the country and, indeed, the world. Our fashion sector employs 180,000 people and generates $11 billion in wages every year. This industry depends on immigrants who bring their innovative designs and talents to New York City,” said U.S. Representative Carolyn B. Maloney (NY-12). “Immigrants are part of what makes our fashion scene unique and keeps it thriving, whether we’re talking about designers who come to take advantage of New York’s creative milieu, the models who grace our runways or the garment workers who bring the designs to life. Making it more difficult for skilled foreign workers in the fashion industry to enter the United States will make it harder for the industry to survive and will do irreparable harm our city’s economy.”
“Immigration and industry have long been intertwined and in few places has that link been more apparent than in New York City’s fashion world. Protecting our immigrant communities contributes to the growth, creativity and uniqueness of our City’s fashion industry,” said City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. “As the report highlights, creating barriers for immigrants hurts our economy and weakens fashion businesses. It is essential to keep finding new ways to empower our immigrant communities and I applaud the Council of Fashion Designers of America and FWD.us for bringing attention to this pressing issue.”
Today, more than 900 fashion companies are headquartered in New York City, employing 180,000 people — roughly 6 percent of the city’s workforce — and generating $10.9 billion in total wages. Our broken immigration system is increasingly slowing the innovation fueling the fashion industry, particularly as fashion houses compete for designers, scientists, and researchers to develop groundbreaking new products like wearables and smart textiles. When talented immigrants come to the U.S. to work in fashion, they bring new business and creative ideas that ultimately create jobs for American workers in manufacturing, fashion merchandising, marketing, graphic design, sales, and advertising, among other areas.
The report released today by FWD.us and the CFDA outlines two key hurdles impacting the fashion industry: access and retention of top talent, and the difficulty and high cost of navigating the United States’ badly broken immigration system. The new report also makes several recommendations to remedy these concerns, including: reforming and expanding the H-1B and O-1 high-skilled visas, creating a startup visa so that foreign-born entrepreneurs can build companies and create American jobs here, and establishing a process for hardworking undocumented immigrants to earn legal status after successfully passing a background check.
Commonsense immigration reform that revamps the visa system, strengthens border security, and creates a path to legal status for the undocumented community would grow the United States’ economy by roughly 5% in GDP.
See photos from today’s event here: