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apparel/kanter/21 inches/mike1st/mark2nd LARRY KANTER Staff Reporter When people think of high-fashion meccas, the Northeast San Fernando Valley isn’t exactly the first place that leaps to mind. But a growing number of clothing designers, manufacturers and contractors have been fleeing the downtown L.A. garment district to set up shop in less-glamorous environs, such as Arleta, Pacoima, Sylmar and Van Nuys, turning the area into L.A.’s newest apparel center. “There’s a mini-fashion hub happening here,” said Gela Nash, co-owner of the Pacoima-based women’s apparel company Juicy. “It’s definitely growing.” What’s luring apparel firms away from the region’s traditional garment center downtown? Companies cite such advantages as a large manufacturing work force, an easier commute and fewer parking hassles, as well as the opportunity to lease or purchase more-modern, user-friendly digs. And there are other, less-tangible perks, as well. “There’s a different vibe here,” said Linda Meltzer, owner of Tease Tees Inc., another women’s casualwear firm in Arleta. “Going to the garment district is like going into a dark abyss. It’s noisy, it’s sweaty. Here, you see open space, hills, horses. “Downtown, I feel the pressures of all the garment companies around me,” said Meltzer, whose clothing is sold in Fred Segal and Urban Outfitters stores and scores of small, high-fashion boutiques around the country. “Here, it’s just me designing my own stuff.” It’s not just Meltzer. Apparel firms have been in the Northeast Valley for years. And while no one is keeping an exact count, apparel industry and real estate sources say that there are even more of them sprouting up in the industrial and business parks scattered throughout communities like Pacoima, Arleta and Sylmar. “There’s been a lot of garment deals in that area,” said Mike Daven, an industrial properties broker in the Sherman Oaks office of Grubb & Ellis Co. While lease rates in the area are about the same as they are downtown, Daven said that companies often can find newer, more spacious sites in the Valley than they can in the garment district. The move of apparel firms away from the downtown garment district is part of a long-standing, nationwide trend that has seen all manner of companies move away from deteriorating downtown areas and into new headquarters in the suburbs. Many of L.A.’s jewelry manufacturers, for example, also have been slowly migrating away from their traditional center downtown and into areas such as Glendale, Daven said. “There’s a limited inventory (of industrial space) downtown,” Daven said. “What is available is verging on functionally obsolete. Central business districts all over the country are falling off.” Downtown L.A. is in no danger of losing its status as the region’s preeminent fashion center. Both of the area’s wholesale markets CaliforniaMart and New Mart are located downtown, as are hundreds of designers and contracting shops. Indeed, the vast majority of L.A.’s garment industry continues to make its home in or near downtown. As a result, companies that locate outside the garment district often find themselves making a trade-off, said Ilse Metchek, executive director of the California Fashion Association. “All of the support services the buttons, the belts, the pleating are downtown,” said Metchek. “If they want to see new fabric, they either have to come downtown or have somebody come to them. You’re weighing being close to the market against the ease of being away from downtown.” That’s a trade-off most of the Valley’s apparel companies seem more than willing to make. “I’ll never work downtown,” said Angela Torti, whose sewing contracting shop, Angela Torti Fashions, has been in Pacoima for more than a decade and services many of the area’s designers. Most of her contracting peers in L.A.’s garment district ply their trade in old, dank, multi-story buildings, where they often lug merchandise up and down flights of stairs. In Pacoima, Torti leases a 13,000-square-foot modern, ground-floor factory. There is ample parking and most of her 85 employees live nearby, she said. “There’s a good supply of skilled machine operators in this part of the Valley,” said Paul Faris, owner of Faris Brothers of California Inc., a lingerie manufacturer in Sylmar. Besides, he added, most of his employees (most of whom live in the Valley or on the Westside) find that commuting to the Valley is quite a bit easier than driving to the garment district every day. “It’s a little nicer to be here,” Fares said. “It’s less of a trip to go to the Valley than to go to the downtown area.” Few of the area’s apparel firms have been able to completely sever their ties to downtown. Both Juicy and Tease Tees, for example, keep showrooms in the trendy New Mart building. But Meltzer said it’s always good to return to Arleta, far from the fashion industry buzz downtown. “I like to be away from it all, where I can do my own thing,” she said. “Downtown, it feels like people are always looking over my shoulder. It doesn’t feel as rat-racy over here.”

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