Miami is known for many things- Ocean Drive, nightlife, vibrant colors and energy. But, before Los Angeles joined New York as the reigning capitals of fashion in the United States, Miami was producing top fashion designers and brands. In fact, the local apparel industry was mostly headquartered in Wynwood. Which according to filmmaker Christopher Rapalo, made the neighborhood a fashion district long before it became an arts destination. So how did the industry emerge in South Florida and how did it become one of the fastest growing retail and design destinations in the United States?
The Golden Era began under not so glittering circumstances. The Cuban Revolution led to a vast influx of Cubans to Miami’s shores. Escaping Fidel Castro, led them to seek asylum in neighborhoods. Many of the refugee women were professional pattern-makers and sewers back home, creating a newly skilled workforce. George Feldenkreis, founder and executive chairman of Perry Ellis International said to the Miami Herald, “Latins propelled the boom in Miami’s garment industry in Wynwood and Haileah because the labor force from Americans were not there.”
In the 50’s and 60’s when Miami neighborhoods Wynwood, Hilaleah, and Allapattah were packed with manufacturers. This was a beautiful time in which production was high, employment was booming and department stores were in business all over downtown. Also, name-brand stores such as Sears and JCPenny had offices in the area. Buyers sourced local lines and exposed them to large channels of distribution. A few decades later movies and a small TV show Miami Vice kept the “glitz and glamour” of Miami fashion going strong.
A Sharp Decline
The local apparel business hit a bump in the road around the mid-90’s. And bump is just a nice way of saying it hit a sharp decline. A change in the economy was the root of the demise. Globalization, new tech and cheap labor overseas caused worker layoffs. Without jobs, people left and retailers and other businesses closed. These thwarted new potential designers and kept a revival at bay. Without a workforce, how can product be made and new brands emerge? It became a vicious cycle. But, Miami refused to stay down.
Miami’s growth as a major U.S capital and international tourism destination has kept the city on the radar. In fact, it has grown in its exposure due to music festivals, nightlife and a place of culture. With eyes on Miami, others took note on their eclectic beach style and expressive swimwear styles. This was a catalyst for Miami Swim Week and a desire for a “Made in Miami” label. Now designers are looking to Miami for inspiration as well as new young designers have set forth a new revival. From humble beginnings, a golden age, depression and now a new resurgence, Miami’s fashionable future looks like it has a bright future ahead.