The news that Manny’s Millinery was closing this month took us all by surprise, but for small hatters it was a real disappointment. To be proactive (and come up with an alternative plan) they started a group called Save the Garment District. If you have supplies that you can offer these local NYC milliners or retailers, please contact them or us at hatlife. If you have any suggestions please come forward.

I suppose we’ll see Howard from Manny’s around – but he has not said where (we know he loves to play the guitar, but we have no definitive word that he will turn up on a Brazilian beach or a Swiss Alp).

The New York Sun wrote an article about this hat supply dilemma and the article is below for you to read. It really hits home, so to speak.

Survivors in a Threatened Industry Deserve a Tip of the Hat

December 17, 2007

Wearing hats of their own design, an eclectic band of milliners packed into a narrow storefront in Greenwich Village one recent night to address a serious problem within their ranks: a looming shortage of supplies.

While the shuttering of garment supply stores has become a familiar refrain in New York City, the imminent closing of a popular millinery depot has thrown hat makers into a state of panic. The store, Manny's, is one of the last local bastions to carry their supplies, they said at the meeting, convened at The Hat Shop on Thompson Street.

"It's our existence," designer Lawrence Levins, who was wearing a newsboy cap, said. "That's what's threatened at this point." By the end of the night, a newly hatched Milliners Guild boasted 40 prospective members who were committed to sustaining their businesses. Through the guild, the milliners hope to exchange tips for acquiring supplies and staying in business.

"It has legs," the owner of The Hat Shop, Linda Pagan, said afterward. "We keep getting new members."

The loss of Manny's, on West 38th Street, is likely to have the biggest impact on small businesses, which depend on local suppliers. New York City-based milliners said the store is a locus for purchasing items such as ribbon, trim, and veiling. Manny's, expected to close this month, is the only place in the city to purchase "felts," or hat bodies that are steamed and shaped into hats, they said.

"It was a big blow. People don't understand what it means to us," hatmaker Penny Klein said.

In large part, the art of hat making has not changed for several generations, and many milliners depend on certain products that are imported from Europe. During a recent visit to a hat shop and studio on East 7th Street, the owner of the store, Barbara Feinman, demonstrated a blocking technique used to shape hats. Many of the wooden blocks she used to mold the hats into shape were acquired over the years from various sources, including Manny's.

Reached by telephone, the owner of Manny's, Howard Reinlieb, said a lack of business prompted his decision to close the shop his father opened in 1948. "I've always worked hard … but when I see the numbers dropping and I'm on a treadmill, it's time to get off," he said.

In recent years, the milliners' dilemma has become ubiquitous in New York City, as manufacturing moves overseas. "That's the microcosm of what's going on in the garment district on the whole," a project manager at the Garment Industry Development Corp., Magda Aboufadl, said.

According to Department of Labor statistics, 10,000 manufacturers currently work in the garment industry in New York, out of 40,000 individuals overall. The fashion industry accounts for less than half of the area's total workforce of 94,000.

Besides the shift to overseas manufacturing, the city is considering a plan to rezone the Garment Special Center District, an area bounded by 34th and 40th streets between Sixth and Ninth avenues. Since 1987, conversions of manufacturing space to office space have been severely restricted to preserve the garment industry.

At the same time, rents in the area have been increasing, according to local business owners. Last year, a costume designer moved her store to Long Island City, and others have sought space in Brooklyn and New Jersey. Recently, rumors swirled about a trim store on West 39th Street that may close after 30 years.

"You know what I'm scared of? That all my other peers in the industry are going to be kicked out," a manufacturer who is a spokeswoman for the group Save the Garment District, Samanta Cortes, said.

Among milliners, it is a wait-and-see game.

"It's frightening," Ms. Feinman said. "I've tried to make myself understand that I'm not going to be able to do business the way I've been doing it."

The prospect of dwindling supplies has forced her to face a harsher reality. "There's a little bit to worry about there," she said.