New York and fashion — why they go hand-in-hand

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Picture this: it’s 2009. Low rise jeans and spaghetti strap tank tops still reign supreme for a night out look. Juicy Couture sweatsuits are all the rage for those who can afford them and chunky highlights were not something to be laughed at. Within this rather cringe-worthy time in fashion, a 22-year-old college student in Bloomington, IN, decided to start a website — a fashion website, dedicated to college students. Now, eight years later, CollegeFashionista founder and creative partnerships director, Amy Levin, sits in an office in Union Square Park, New York, NY, dreaming up the next version of the site she created back in 2009.

New York City is almost synonymous with American fashion. Between the magazine offices and designer flagship stores, there’s fashion everywhere you turn in the Big Apple. The streets of the city have been the birthplace of many different facets of the industry, but not all companies start out there. Levin, for example, first headed west before coming back east to continue to grow the business.

And that decision has paid off. CollegeFashionista now boasts over 2,000 Style Gurus, aka student writers, from over 500 college campuses worldwide who submit month content to be published on the site. This gives students access to an industry that was before only available to those in New York or Los Angeles. The opportunity to break into the fashion industry was the reason Levin started CollegeFashionista in the first place.

“I knew to stay competitive, I had to build relevant skills for the industry,” said Levin in an interview with Forbes.

I want to be apart of it

Levin’s competitiveness eventually landed her in the fashion hub, someplace she knew she always wanted to be like most fashion-obsessed girls do. And as one of the fashion-obsessed, I wanted to see why others wanted to come to the city as well. CollegeFashionista editor, Anna Coke, said she’s “pretty much always known (she) wanted to work in fashion,” though she originally tried out design and found out it wasn’t for her. Coke said she decided this as a little girl and has had her heart set on New York ever since.

Fashion fills the streets of New York City | Photo by Alexis Kelly

Seeing as it’s a top contender when it comes to fashion capitals, it’s no surprise that people from all over the world flock to New York. It regularly battles with other fashion heavyweights — specifically Paris, London and Milan — for the coveted spot atop the Global Language Monitor’s Top Global Fashion Capital list. Other notable U.S. cities such as LA, Miami, Dallas and Chicago along with several others also hold places in the list, though none are at the level of New York.

But wait… why New York? Why not Chicago or Miami or Dallas or any of the other major U.S. cities? Don’t they have thriving fashion scenes as well?

To put it simply, New York is driven by fashion and fashion is driven by New York. As Elisabeth Currid says her in her book “The Warhol economy: How fashion, art, and music drive New York City,” New York City is a global center for creativity, up there with the likes of Paris because “…in New York, creativity and creative people are able to succeed.”

This creativity, though, is sometimes rather hard to describe as it’s so ephemeral. As Currid puts it:

“Fashion, art, and music are fun. They are, after all, the industries that drive celebrity and create those ephemeral and elusive qualities of glamour, sexy, and cool. And how they obtain these qualities is often impossible, if not downright arbitrary, to predict… The same can be said of any number of creative people… or, more broadly, “cultural producers”—those who create and produce the art and culture consumed by both mass and niche markets.”

It’s hard to say what exactly makes New York New York, but there’s something about the place that draws people in. Kali Concepcion, CollegeFashionista’s graphic designer, and a Flordia native thought originally she was going to move to LA until she interned with CollegeFashionista in New York.

Others, like CollegeFashionista marketing coordinator Katie Fabry, grew up close to the city and chose to move closer when the time — and job offer — came. “I didn’t know that I always wanted to be here but I had a really good idea. I always loved the city since I was growing up and coming here. I always really loved it and it was just kind of the epicenter of everything I wanted to do, so it was pretty natural for me to move here ultimately.

Sarah Desiderio, the social media manager at CollegeFashionista and a Philadelphia native, shared some sentiments with Coke about originally wanting to go in design but realizing she didn’t like it.

What links together these co-workers from Florida, Kentucky, New York, Pennsylvannia and Illinois is one thing: fashion. All of them knew at some point that they wanted to step into the industry and with the fashion industry, usually, comes established streets of New York.

The Cost of the Big Apple

But while all these women wanted to come here, they knew it came with a price — literally and figuratively. CollegeFashionista editorial director and sister to Levin, Melissa Levin, says it’s important to get your finances in order before making the big move.

Desiderio agreed on the disadvantage of the price while Concepcion and Fabry talked more about the people. “Everyone in the city is just so go, go, go,” said Fabry. Concepcion said that the fast-paced lifestyle and career-driven mentality can be hard to keep up with if you’re someone who works at a slower pace as it can cause your vision to get clouded. “You could lose sight of what is really important which is ultimately not your career,” she said.

Competition can be another disadvantage when it comes to being in New York, said Amy Levin. “Almost every one of my friends here is involved in the fashion industry in some aspect… New York is most certainly not for everyone.”

Overall, “just living in New York, in general, is hard,” said Coke. “But it does teach you a lot and once you work through it, you gain so much more confidence and then you feel like you can kind of work through anything.

Baby, I’m worth it

But the advantages, as everyone pointed out, far outweigh the disadvantages of living in New York.

A view over Midtown | Photo by Halle Olson

“There are so many opportunities,” said Desiderio, and that’s very true. The Department of Labor stated that private sector jobs grew 2.6 percent in the last year to employ almost 4 million people in New York City. Talk about opportunity. In 2010, the fashion industry alone employed approximately 165,000 people or 5.5 percent of New York City’s workforce. By 2015, the industry employed 182,200 people — and the industry continues to grow as fashion stretches beyond design and retail to media.

Melissa Levin said that you can do anything you want to do in New York: “That opportunity is there if you’re willing to work really hard to get it.” Coke agreed that there is so much more opportunity here as well as many more people involved in fashion as opposed to other parts of the U.S. “If you want to work in fashion, this is probably the best place that you can come,” she said.

“Everything is here,” said Concepcion. Being that New York is the U.S. fashion capital, you do have a number of resources at your disposal especially when it comes to networking. Amy Levin said that from one coffee meeting, she can be introduced to and meet up with new people within a week’s time, something that’s not as easy if you aren’t located in the city.

Empire State of style

After being living in New York for awhile and working in the fashion industry, it begins to influence you in both small and big ways. “Here, everyone is welcome to dress how they want. If I’m afraid that I’m dressed to weird one day, I know that everyone has seen something weirder at some point,” said Concepcion.

“It’s made me more confident,” said Melissa Levin. “You can do your own thing, be comfortable and explore fashion.”

Fabry said her style evolution has come with both age and location: “It’s really cool to see how people blend style with practicality. I think it’s just a really creative process here and everyone is very immersed in it and I think it’s just really inspiring to be walking around and seeing the creativity of everyone whether they’re in fashion or not.

Just walking down the street on a normal day, you’ll see everything from sharp suits to shorter shorts than your mother would ever let you wear out, but it all seems to blend together so effortlessly. It’s very true what they say that New York City streets are like a runway. While you do see some people wearing sweatpants or tattered clothing, it’s more likely to see someone expressing their style — no matter how bold — in ways that would make some Midwesterners shudder.

Coming from Penn State, Desiderio found it interesting to go from the uniform of college gear to a city that expresses itself in many different ways. “Style is such a huge part of New York,” she said.

We always know that New York and fashion are synonymous, but sometimes it’s hard to see how big the industry really is. From the endless inspiration on the streets to the number of jobs available in the industry, it can be eye opening to immerse yourself into the industry we hear and talk so much about.

With fashion week right around the corner, New York will draw an even larger fashion crowd to the city for a week of almost endless shows and presentations by designers located in the U.S. From there, editors, influencers and style aficionados alike will pull inspiration from the looks and trends that come down the runway. These events will also provide jobs for people across the city and cost a pretty penny for the design houses. Article upon article will be written breaking down the trends. The city will be insane with life.

So, picture this: it’s 2017. Florals for spring are no longer groundbreaking and gingham no longer belongs in your picnic basket. Zara reigns supreme and everyone wears whatever they feel like wearing in New York City. But it’s all in the name of fashion.

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