Seattle Boasts Nation’s 4th Largest Fashion Design Economy

From major retail headquarters like Nordstrom to prominent independent designers like Luly Yang Couture, Seattle is home to major fashion powerhouses. Yet despite visible retail assets, Seattle often does not receive recognition as a fashion hub. New efforts to strengthen Seattle’s already robust apparel and fashion economy are aimed at changing this perception.

According to a 2010 study, Seattle is the seventh largest apparel-manufacturing center and fourth largest city for fashion design employment in the United States. At the time of the study, there were an estimated 500 to 700 fashion company headquarters in the greater Seattle area. Many companies with headquarters in Seattle, such as outdoor-clothing manufacturer Filson, are increasing their local presence with expanded office and manufacturing space.

Seattle’s fashion and apparel presence is also continuing to expand globally. Nordstrom is preparing to open a fifth store in Canada and e-commerce site continues its rapid growth in average monthly unique visitors from around the world:

Apparel and fashion products produced in Washington are also in high-demand overseas. In 2009, the Port of Seattle reported $4.6 billion in waterborne freight imports related to fashion and apparel industries:

These figures lead to a large income for Washington State. According to the Washington Department of Revenue, the apparel and accessories retail trade in Washington totaled $1,164,620,553 and the total Washington retail trade income was $27,319,642,402 in 2010.

As the industry grows, so do the opportunities for Seattle to leverage it as a viable economic resource. However, a large barrier remains: Seattle’s apparel and fashion economy lacks public awareness about the economic benefits the industry cluster brings to the region. Recognizing this issue, groups like the Seattle Fashion Incubator have formed to promote the establishment of a garment district in Seattle. Annual events such as the Seattle International Textile Expo also support local designers by bringing top fabric retailers to the Northwest.

Efforts like these are helping to jump-start the conversation about Seattle’s growing retail clout. Through targeted marketing and public relations efforts, fashion oriented groups can raise the awareness and personal investment of Seattleites in their retail economy. Only then will Seattle’s fashion sector receive the attention it deserves.

[Images courtesy of Bloomberg Businessweek and The Port of Seattle respectively]