The Last Millennial In The Garment District
Joann Kim starts her day at 6 a.m. at her dad’s home in Flushing, Queens. She and her boyfriend Luca, a handsome Italian with an undercut and tattoos, take the 7:24 LIRR train together to Penn Station, and walk five blocks to the Garment District. They pick up $1 pastries from a Chinese bakery nearby, kiss goodbye, and by 8 a.m., Kim takes an elevator to the 17th floor, where a quiet garment factory awaits.
She is is the manager at Johnny’s Fashion Studio, a sample and development factory in the Garment District that does work for cutting edge designers and well-known brands alike. With 250 samples a month being turned out of Johnny’s, it’s not entirely unlikely that you’re wearing an item that Kim helped develop.
By Pratt Institute’s count, in 2012, there were a little over 300 factories hidden throughout the upper levels of the Garment District. The owners of these factories are, almost without exception, older men and women from China, India, and Korea in their 50s and 60s who speak little English. Designers find these factories mainly through word of mouth, and hesitate to talk about or publicize the work that factories provide for them.
Kim is an anomaly among her peers in the industry: she’s well-educated, bilingual, tech-savvy, and boasts a background in both the NYC art and foodie worlds. She’s the daughter of the factory’s namesake, Johnny, a second-generation patternmaker who’s been in the business for 30 years. She’s also, at 31, part of the Millennial generation, though she disputes that term. “That generation that everyone is always saying is lazy? I work too hard to be a Millennial!” she says. Compared to the other, older factory managers, Kim is jarringly young and cool, with heeled ankle boots, a gold nose ring, tattoos, and ombré hair.