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Hanky Panky: In The Garment District

New York City has been synonymous with fashion for the better part of the last century. There are more fashion and apparel businesses located in NYC (846, Source: Save the Garment Center) than any other city in the world. But the number that actually manufactures a product here is far lower. The changes within the NYC apparel industry have left few firms that produce clothing on a large scale. The majority now make high end, niche, and couture products. Still, there are several businesses that have navigated these changes gracefully and have adapted to the new fashion climate of the City. At the head of the pack is Hanky Panky, with native Brooklynite Lida Orzeck at the helm.

Hanky Panky is a women’s intimate apparel manufacturer, born out of a birthday gift. In 1977, Lida received a hand sewn bra and bikini bottom set made out of embroidered handkerchiefs from her friend Gale Epstein (co-founder and now Creative Director at Hanky Panky). Lida was captivated by the novelty of the cotton lingerie and shortly thereafter the two decided to go into business. The rest is history.

When asked why she continues to manufacture in NYC Lida says “We do it because we want to, and most importantly, because we feel most comfortable working this way; with the production under our noses. It allows us to be fast, flexible, and produce small custom runs, something that would be impossible if we manufactured overseas.” Although Hanky Panky manufactures east of their Manhattan studio, the car or train ride to their Hollis, Queens production facility is a far cry from an international flight.

Keeping production close to the design team has always been a staple of the Hanky Panky operation. In 1977 the duo moved into a space at 475 5th Avenue (“That space was 475 square feet!” says Lida), on the edge of the Garment District. The tiny space was the Hanky Panky showroom by day and cutting floor by night. Being so close to production allowed Lida and Gale to ensure that their product was of high quality and if they needed to make design changes on the fly, they could.

As business picked up the team had to scale up and in 1980 took over a full floor at 373 Park Ave South. Currently, Hanky Panky occupies two floors of the building where all the design, sample making, and company planning is done. All cutting of Hanky Panky products is done in an 80,000 sq ft warehouse in Hollis, Queens. Overseen by Warehouse Manager Richard Space, apparel specific Gerber machinery is used to turn out thousands of pieces daily. The cut pieces are bundled with trim and sent to the sewing contractors, located primarily in Queens and Brooklyn. The sewers then return the finished product to Hollis where it is checked for quality and prepped for distribution. The Hollis warehouse also serves as the Hanky Panky storage and distribution center.

Hanky Panky has steadily expanded despite the general decline of the apparel industry in NYC,. In 1980 the company employed 25, now it boasts 150 employees between the Manhattan showroom / sample studio and the Hollis production facility. “We don’t find it so hard to manufacture here. We were surprised that people left so fast!” says Lida, speaking about the decline of the industry.

With a strong commitment to local manufacturing, you better believe Lida and Gale are equally committed to local sourcing and sustainable practices. Hanky Panky contracts almost exclusively with Klauber Lace, a 4th generation NYC family business, for the material used in their products. The signature lace that is the core of their collection is a copyrighted pattern.

When it comes to being sustainable, Lida says “It’s hard to be in apparel and be green. This is a flashy, showy, industry.” However, the partners have committed to a number of initiatives aimed at greening the company from the inside. All cutting waste is donated to Material for the Arts, a program operated by the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs whose mission is to distribute unused or excess materials to cultural organizations, public schools, and community arts programs. Hanky Panky also subscribes to an electronics recycling service. Employees are encouraged to bring in old cell phones and other e-waste to be disposed of and recycled properly.

The next step in sustainability for Hanky Panky is the installation of a green the buildings landlord is planning to install right above their heads in Queens. The roof will assist in capturing rainwater that would otherwise flow into the city’s sewer system, as well as insulate the building adding to its overall energy efficiency.

Hanky Panky has led the way in innovation and style since its inception. When other manufacturers were leaving the City, Gale and Lida and their team adapted and continued to grow without batting an eye. Carrying on the tradition of apparel manufacturing is no easy feat and the business partners have set an example for the industry by managing a company that has found success while still maintaining a label that proudly reads “Made In NYC”.