LA garment workers helped shape future downtown development

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Under fluorescent light, men and women stay focused during the work day at 9B Apparel in Huntington Park, CA, August 26, 2022. Photo by Amy Ta.

Los Angeles is home to one of the largest hubs for garment manufacturing in the United States, accounting for more than 80% of the nation’s cut-and-sew clothing sales, according to the LA-based Garment Worker Center. 

But as more clothing production has moved overseas, it’s been increasingly difficult for downtown’s historic garment district to remain intact. Thus, for years, workers pushed to have a say in the downtown’s community plan, a new set of zoning rules that will shape development in the neighborhood for decades to come. 

The plan, which was unanimously approved by the City Council last week, seeks to bring 100,000 housing units downtown over the next two decades. And, much to the relief of some garment workers and their advocates, it also now includes protections that will prevent some existing garment buildings from being knocked down so that housing can be built. 

Daisy Gonzalez, a campaign organizer for the Garment Worker Center, says that while workers were not opposed to new housing, which is sorely needed in the city, they feared that an influx of market-rate developments without protections would simply fuel displacement.  

“Garment workers recognize that, yes, the City of Los Angeles does need more housing production, in particular deeply affordable housing, for the lowest income residents that are most at risk of homelessness,” says Gonzalez. “[But] what we do want to see, and what we were able to accomplish … is strong protections to prevent displacement of garment manufacturing from existing buildings.”

Gonzalez says that preventing the industry from moving overseas also assures that garment workers can to continue to benefit from hard-won worker protections, which aim to protect those working in manufacturing houses from the wage theft that has long plagued the industry. 

And Jessica Kutz, a reporter for The 19th, says protections outlined in the new plan won’t just have an impact on workers — they’ll also make it easier for the region’s burgeoning sustainable fashion industry to stay intact. 

Kutz says that in addition to reducing carbon emissions due to things like transportation and shipping, the large concentration of fashion businesses in LA reduces pressure on owners to produce more than what’s needed. 

“One of the main benefits of being in LA, [which helps] cut down on the waste that I think consumers are becoming more aware of in the fast fashion industry, is the ability to produce small batches in Los Angeles. Because there are so many of these smaller companies, there's a lot more flexibility in the number of garments that you have to commission.”

Gonzalez says that overall, workers see the version of the plan passed by City Council as a “victory.” Now, it’s up to Mayor Karen Bass to give it final approval — by the May 12 deadline. 



  • Daisy Gonzalez - campaign director for the Garment Worker Center
  • Jessica Kutz - gender, climate and sustainability reporter for The 19th