The NYC Factory of the Future Project

Developing New Production Models and Marketing Strategies


A collaboration of Social Accountability International, the Garment Industry Development Corporation, and Systain

2006 – 2008

  The Factory of the Future project brings together a new coalition and new approaches to improve working conditions in the New York City apparel industry. SAI is joining forces with the Garment Industry Development Corporation (GIDC) to support NYC garment producers in their efforts to create sustainable, decent jobs. U.S. brands continue to buy garments from New York City factories. Albeit a small portion of sales for a global brand, these orders are significant for the 20,000 garment workers still in the industry. While global brands now spend heavily on monitoring the working conditions in their supply chains, relatively small investments in New York could have significant impacts for these workers. If New York garment producers can ensure social compliance, they can establish a niche as close-to-market, responsible producers. The goals of this project are to improve working conditions, boost the factories’ competitiveness, demonstrate how sourcing from New York can be a viable and desirable option, and encourage replication by more factories. We will build support for the program by tapping global brands’ stated commitments to ensure decent working conditions in their supply chain. To that end, this project shares a vision with the NCF’s Interprogram goal to establish corporate accountability. This vision is coupled with a focus on worker empowerment.   A handful of factories in New York seek to expand the range of products and services they offer and to differentiate themselves from low end producers through better workplace conditions and product quality. This project will focus primarily on a small group of those more innovative and energetic managers to strengthen their strategies and overall competitiveness. If these factories can distinguish themselves as socially responsible and able to produce quality, fashion-sensitive samples and product runs, then their survival will also be good for the fashion industry in New York City. The ability to innovate, test and respond to market tastes is vital to the future of the design industry itself – both for well-known brands and up-and-coming designers. Key to maintaining a vibrant design and fashion industry in New York are the workers – especially skilled workers. Cost-cutting by garment producers and little to no investment in worker skill training, means the industry is now experiencing a skills shortage. Nevertheless, interviews with workers and enrolment rates for GIDC´s vocational training courses indicate that workers are interested in improving their skills and ability to perform in the industry. GIDC/SAI surveys of workers (2005) indicate that, despite the low wages, garment-factory worker respondents like the flexibility in their jobs provided by employers who value their craft. Improving factory management of production and their ability to attract orders can help stabilize production across the year; this is key for attracting and retaining more workers who are looking for stable, annual income. One factory owner posits that such improvements could help his workers earn 50% more – enough for them to no longer ask for partial payment in cash. The timing for such an intervention is good, because manufacturing in New York City has shown resilience in certain niche areas where the rationale for its existence is clear. The project will work with factory owners and managers to improve the overall business and use gains from better factory management and productivity to improve working conditions and the sustainability of jobs. A third implementing partner, Systain, will add its international consulting experience in successfully pairing social compliance with management and productivity improvements. To advise and support the project, SAI and GIDC will also work with New York government agencies, UNITEHERE! and U.S. brands buying from NYC. Growing brand commitment to the project goals will be central to our implementation strategy. Working intensively with a small group of New York City garment producers to provide in-depth training and technical assistance (TA) to both managers and workers SAI, GIDC, and Systain propose to:
  1. improve working conditions,
  2. improve factory management and service delivery,
  3. sharpen workers´ skills and ability to give input to management on factory improvements, and
  4. work with factories to develop an innovative business model for improving production and services and to assist them in obtaining financing to upgrade equipment & plant.
Project partners will provide intensive training and technical assistance to the workers and managers of three factories (100 workers) and introductory training (30 hours) to 6 factories (200 workers) in year one. These numbers are expected to double in year two and grow substantially in year three and beyond as initial successes are reported. In addition to training, the project partners will seek to build support for the participating factories from diverse sectors, inviting key brand, union, government and NGO actors to participate in a project advisory committee. This committee will provide advice and support as the factories work to strengthen their overall management, service delivery and provide better terms and conditions for workers. The committee will also play a pivotal role in helping to report out, draw the attention of the press and other industry leaders and in encouraging other factories to replicate the model factories’ improvements.