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Designer and New Store Owner Yeohlee Teng on Doing Business in the Garment District

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Designer and New Store Owner Yeohlee Teng on Doing Business in the Garment District

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Designer Yeohlee Teng has done something totally new when it comes to operating as a designer in New York: she opened a retail store in the garment district. Instead of Soho, the Upper East Side, or any of the other favorable shopping locales throughout the city, Teng, chose to keep her retail business close to home, in the same building as her label's design headquarters.

We were able to catch up with Teng during a visit to the store at 25 West 38th store, in the heart of the wholesale apparel industry. Located at the base of the building's original, restored Art-Deco storefront, the shop is stocked with the designer's signature modern, architectural creations. While the move is an unusual one for a designer--perhaps a first--the placement of the shop just steps from Teng's showroom, offices and archives seems like a no-brainer, and we have a feeling that other designers will hasten to follow suit.

The store is the culmination of a thoughtful journey by Teng, who serves as the general secretary of the CFDA and has been integral in working with the city, Design Trust for Public Space and the Economic Development Corporation on analyzing and preserving the vitality of one of the city's most important industry center, the Garment District.

What was your goal in opening a retail store in the Garment District, an area typically focused on the wholesale side of things?

Yeohlee Teng: There were many factors that brought this about. We did this study called Made in Manhattan, and it changed the dialog that we were having with the city about the district. It went from an industry in decline to an innovative and creative hub. And...it made clear to us in the study that creativity and proximity are indelibly linked. That really sits well with my own personal philosophy: I always believe in the process of design, and everything evolves as a process.

I always wanted a retail store, but I always wanted to be close to the retail store. I'm a designer that likes to be close to the people I work with so when I was able to find a venue that made all those possibilities happen, this is what you got as a result.

There are many reasons why we're here. We're here for the proximity of creativity we're here for the architectural gem that the building is, and we're here because I love the street, I love the diner across the street and all the trim stores and the hardware store opened about the same time that I did.

So now I have retail, a window to the street--to the world--I have a showroom in the back, under a skylight, it's lovely and then on the second floor are my design rooms and in the basement are my archives and shipping. And down the street are my factories. When you design something, you have an idea of how it's going to look, but in the process of it being cut or sewn, the person who executes it, the hands that actually does the process, sometimes has recommendations to improve on the design and its function. So it all came together.

The building looks fantastic, tell us about the facade.

YT: That we were able to do a restoration to the facade, which is a first in the Garment District, I feel is a real contribution to street life, urban living in New York City. Because don't forget the Garment District is part of our heritage. You know the brokers, lawyers and doctors of today came from families that worked in the garment industry. So..it's historical.

And the fact that I can do this in a 1910 building with a facade that's art deco-ish, I think says a lot about all the things that I believe in or have faith in.  It's very nice to be able to bring to reality what you envision.

How did you get involved with the movement to "save the Garment District"?

YT: The way that I got involved in Made in Midtown had to do with the fact that about three years ago, I heard about a meeting and I went to a presentation by the EDC where they talked about rezoning the district. And the first thing that came to my mind was, what happens to all these people in all these buildings and all their jobs? So I got involved because of a desire to just inform my neighbors of what's going on. And you know, I got in deeper and deeper and the study happened which is really the first study of its kind, which is to take a look at the district and see exactly what it is today--not think about the past--but to look at the present so we can re-envision a future.

And basically, this store is part of the vision of the future.

Related Topics Q&A, GARMENT DISTRICT, OPENINGS
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