Miami-based designer Rene Ruiz remembers Miami's textile sector when his career was starting in the early 1990s.
"There used to be about 1,000 factories making dresses, jackets, all kinds of stuff," he said. "One of my first jobs was in one of those factories — there were about 100 employees. ... It was before the mass exodus to China and Central America."
On May 21, the apparel focus was back in Miami, as the city hosted its first Apparel Textile Sourcing show. Created by entrepreneur and publisher Jason Prescott, the show was previously held in Toronto. But as he told the Herald in advance of the show last month, Miami's proximity to Latin America, as well as the lower cost of doing business in Florida, led him and one of the show's main sponsors, the Chinese Chamber Of Commerce for Import and Export of Textile and Apparel, to choose the Magic City.
The three-day convention saw 1,800 attendees from more than 42 countries descend upon the Mana Wynwood Convention Center to exchange ideas and make connections in the textile and fabric sourcing world.
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Prescott, who recently moved from Los Angeles to South Florida, sees the show as a major step toward reviving the Miami fashion and apparel boom of Ruiz's memory.
"Miami is seeing massive migration, and you also have an emerging designer scene out here," he said. "Retail is booming, real estate is booming. ... When you look to the left and right of the freeway, you see high-rises going up."
That means more disposable income. But alongside these new potential buyers, production is being brought back from overseas. New technology is making the manufacturing process less unwieldy. In the place of Miami's large factories, boutique designers like Ruiz are now popping up around the city to create product on-site.
All that is needed is the fabric itself. That is where Prescott and his convention came in. The trade show allowed local designers to meet with overseas textile powerhouses from places like China and bypass intermediaries who typically work out of New York or Los Angeles.
For many Miami fashion mavens, the cost of doing business with these individuals is too high, said Zhang Hantao, a representative for the Chinese Chamber.
"They can't find lower-priced resources," he said. "This platform allows them to continue their career and continue their brand here; they can stay in Miami."
Prescott said these mid-to high-market designers "are not bringing in large shipping containers every week. But production is just as important."
Prescott plans to bring the show, which had the support of influential Miami developer Moishe Mana as well as local government officials, back in 2019.
For Ruiz, the show can serve as a "backbone" as the city's clothing sector springs back into life.
"It's a good beginning for Miami to regain its voice in the 'needle industry,' " he said.