At the turn of the 20th century, the City of Newburgh hummed with more than 100 factories — many of them garment manufacturers. Then, like many urban areas over the years, it gradually fell into decline. But flash-forward to modern times and Newburgh — plus its mini fashion industry — has been on the upswing again.
Of course, since the pandemic hit, many of Newburgh’s manufacturing and other businesses — as in the rest of the Hudson Valley and elsewhere — have been in limbo, with some shut down and others reducing output.
The pre-pandemic boost in Newburgh manufacturing came, partly at least, thanks to support from the Orange County Industrial Development Agency (IDA) and its Accelerator business incubator. At the beginning of 2020, the fashion cluster — its biggest — included 12 companies, and had helped create 70 jobs at its sites in Newburgh, New Windsor, and Chester. “We generally work with the new companies for about three years, but we continue as long as it takes for them to become sustainable,” says Laurie Villasuso, acting chief executive officer.
“An important aspect of the Accelerator,” adds Villasuso, “is that we don’t take any percentage of the businesses’ profits. And we encourage the start-ups to hire local people and provide good working environments. These aren’t sweatshops. Also, Newburgh has such a rich history of textiles, so it’s an excellent location for these companies.”
One of those entrepreneurs, Kate Perna of Poughkeepsie, literally started her company on her dining room table: “I always loved to make things, and, about eight years ago, I taught myself to sew.” She began crafting tote bags for family and friends, which turned it into a business — Inner Beauty Effects — in October 2019. Help came partially in the form of assistance from the Accelerator. “The Accelerator is all about creating jobs and opportunity, and when I spoke with them, I realized we had a common vision,” Perna says.
Perna moved the tote bag business into one of the Accelerator’s two Newburgh sites, at 605 Broadway — fittingly, the building is a former women’s-apparel factory.
Inner Beauty Effects collaborates with regional female artists who design the bags’ fabric linings; most exteriors are made of waxed canvas, colored with nontoxic dyes. Inner Beauty Effects also sells other types of women’s bags, and a portion of sales have been going to local women’s organizations.
“Everything is handmade,” adds Perna, who has strong ties to Newburgh — she received her undergrad and master’s degrees at Mount Saint Mary College and is also an English teacher at SUNY Orange in the city.
Perna says her company’s long-term goals, once the economy begins to open up again, include continuing to work with local artists and to help train local, under-employed workers in sewing skills so they can eventually step into steady jobs.
“The pandemic has certainly changed some things for us,” Perna says. “We pivoted almost immediately from manufacturing totes to making face masks. She adds: “We’re looking more at short-term goals because so much is still uncertain.”
Inner Beauty Effects recently launched its first washable tote bag (especially practical during the pandemic, Perna says), paired with hand sanitizer from Hudson Naturals, local makers of plant-based skincare products.
Another Newburgh fashion startup is Ziel, an on-demand apparel manufacturing service for brands and retailers that want to have their own line of on-demand, sustainable, private label apparel. It was launched in Manhattan in 2015 by former competitive athlete Marleen Vogelaar, who has a background in manufacturing and finance. The business later moved to the Bronx, then relocated to Newburgh last year, employing seven full-time seamstresses and manufacturing out of the same 605 Broadway site as Inner Beauty Effects.
Prior to the pandemic, Luke Padawer, a Ziel project manager, explained their method: “We do on-demand, sustainable production. We actually describe ourself as a fashion technology company because we provide the concept, prototype, and design production. So, instead of manufacturing 1,000 garments at a time, we can make just a few pieces for a customer’s specified order, and increase the amount as needed,” Padawer says.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ziel factory and its networks of micro-factories are also working together to source and produce PPE for medical and non-medical use
Ziel has received engineering and technical support thanks to the Orange IDA. The IDA organizes sewing training sessions for both experienced and new seamstresses and tailors. The classes are tailored to Ziel’s needs, and the majority of seamstresses who have gone through the program and were offered a job.
Project manager Noelani Reyes has been overseeing a Ziel garment project dubbed Sheltersuit that’s aimed at helping homeless people. “It’s essentially a lightweight, waterproof jacket with a hood that zips into a sleeping bag and can be carried like a backpack,” she says. “And while we know it won’t solve the homelessness problem, it can be a helpful option for homeless people who sleep out in the streets. So far, about 10,000 Sheltersuits have been distributed globally.”
Newburgh is the first location in the USA where these suits are produced.