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A ‘Made in China’ Retailer That Makes Clothes Like Milan

October 3, 2018, 1:08 PM UTC

China’s manufacturing industry isn’t known for couture, but that may be changing.

Lafayette 148, a New York-based clothing brand that started in a factory in Manhattan’s Chinatown in 1996, moved its manufacturing to China a few years ago, as rent and other costs skyrocketed in the U.S. “We just couldn’t be profitable” in New York, said Deirdre Quinn, co-founder and CEO of Lafayette 148, at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit in Laguna Niguel, Calif., on Tuesday.

Quinn’s co-founders, Shun Yen Siu and Ida Siu—the proprietors of the original Chinatown plant—moved back to their hometown of Shantou, China, and built the new factory there. Although the relocation has cut the retailer’s costs significantly, the operations more closely resemble the made-to-order fashion houses of Italy than the cheap labor connotations of a “made in China” label, Quinn added.

“People think of manufacturing in China and they think ‘oh no,’ but really it is unbelievable,” Quinn said during a panel of startup founders at the conference. “I’m really proud when people want a tour of it.”

The Shantou factory has multiple floors, each focusing on different details of the clothing. “It is one floor for denim, one floor for hand beading and embellishments,” Quinn said. “What we’re really doing is customizing for our customer.”

Of course, Lafayette 148 still maintains a foothold in New York: It just moved its original headquarters in the Soho neighborhood (at 148 Lafayette St.) to a massive 70,000-square-foot loft in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.