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Posted on October 11 2020




Posted on October 11 2020


Commuting and travel in close proximity is back, and will be increasing in the coming months.  You will need a simple way to keep your mask on and still have a swig of your favorite beverage.  I give you the BRJ cocktail mask: born in the scourge, MADE IN THE GARMENT CENTER.  DRINK UP!

During lockdown the factory was closed and I could only dream of making anything at all. In June my mom sent me some masks she’d made and I wore them for dressy occasions and business.  Over time though, we all realize that masks – no matter how gorgeous - come with a few inconveniences.  I thought I could potentially split the mask and put an overlap in the pleat, in just the right spot, to make a face covering you can sip a drink through without removing.  

The factory finally reopened.  It had been way too long; I was so happy to see the ladies and my friends in the Garment Center.  Now these were the people who could vet my idea and make it happen.  Translating English to Chinese and back again, they gave the thumbs up to make a sample.  Back in the factory, working this pattern out with artisans I’ve known for such a long time felt so good.  This is the excitement and passion that makes the work worth it.  To my delight, when I returned the magic was complete and we had cocktail masks!  I refined a little and added structure to the mouth opening, which keeps the fabric from rubbing on your lips and the straw opening closed upon exit. Perfect.

The Garment Center, these relationships, mean so much to me and NYC.  Help me support their efforts and keep local artisans and designers producing.  Help make “buy local” more than a slogan.  Get to know the real people, real makers, living in and raising communities here.  The connection between who makes what we buy, and where, with having more meaningful things in our lives - is more critical than ever.  

I am so grateful to be back working with my teams here and want to introduce you to some of the extraordinary people and businesses that make BRJ and these masks possible.

The factory - Flora and Jin and the whole team.

BRJ Factory 38th ST NYC 

The women here have supported me through thick and thin.  Always behind the scenes, their tremendous skills give BRJ pieces the quality and innovation they are known for – which 90% of my woven shirts over 12 years can attest to.  They work together as a family and many are, in fact, family.  I have seen their children grow up and now they get to see mine.  My boys are a quarter Chinese as well and it’s a pleasure taking them to the factory where they are showered with love.  Independent factories and small businesses are the backbone of New York.  They supply an outlet for designers to make beautiful things that resonate locally, outside the impersonal channels of overseas production (among other things).  This is not just about employment of workers, supporting their families and opportunities for them to help develop their own business.  They help artists like me to learn and forge their own path; creating unique, specialized products. 

I am beyond indebted to these angels and proud that I am able to continue working with them. 


Guide Fabrics 

Throughout the years I’ve been told I have had the best employees and I did indeed.  So I know one when I see one and Tommy from Guide fabrics one of the greats.  He is old school and so is Guide Fabrics.  The coolest part about Guide is how a family built a fashion business selling things that are forgotten about or never even seen at all, but make the difference between junk and a great BRJ Product.  They supply the lining, fusible, hymo, pocketing, and specialty tailoring fabrics that make great menswear.  Even the way they corner the market is old school too.  Customers are treated and taken care of as if they are family.  All the work is done by union workers, they even hand deliver to Garment Center Factories  free, without question.  The fashion business is tricky, even more so for a small independents like By Robert James: Guide Fabrics were there for me and offered credit that helped keep the doors open when a season was tough.  Tommy is more than a vendor he became a friend, whether it’s taking me to a ball game or just showing up for in-store events or my fashion week shows he was there.  

Thanks for coming to my shows Tommy – made me feel like I’d made it and gave me the same comfort as having my mom, dad, and brother there.

Panda Trim Supply

As a student at FIT one of your first tasks was to go to the Garment Center and purchase the supplies for the coming year.  I was so excited to be in the city and following my dream!  That was the day I met the amazing people at Panda.  They have too many things to list, let’s just say they have all the trim!  When I needed elastic binding and the metal for the nose of my Beverage masks I knew where to get it.  What’s amazing about Panda is they stock their products and price them from 1 piece to 1000's, but don't gouge you too much for buying less.  Once again, they are there to support the new and supply the established business.  They take care of me today the same as they did when I walked in the door 22 years ago.  Well, except now they know me now and that means if I forget a bag or my credit card just to hold on to it I will be back for it.  Thank you for always having what I need and having my back even when I'm losing my mind. 


 B & J Fabrics

I typically purchase production materials from wholesalers; it’s the only way.  However, for samples, custom and show garments you can’t buy giant bolts of fabric before you know the style is a go.  I usually buy all my fabrics wholesale.  Often flying them in from Japan if necessary for sampling and shows.  For  these purposes importing is not feasible on my independent budget that's where B7J comes in.   You can have the greatest design for a house but need the best materials to make it stand up to the elements.  They too support the creative process as well as business, as most of what they sell can be sourced in bulk fairly easily once you learn the ropes.  Another part of what makes B & J so great is that a salesperson still helps you find what you are looking for and cuts it.  The same man has helped me for 22 years!  While B & J is still open and looking to compete online, during COVID John my Cutter finally decided to hang it up. He had been with me for 22 years. He was always so kind and he showed me how to find fabrics I could readily source.   I did not get to say farewell to him and know he reads the BRJ e-mails so let me say "I will miss you!  Take care, good buddy!”  


The stories I have highlighted here are some of my favorites but it only scratches the surface of all the people working hard every day to keep the Garment Center kicking and vibrant – despite a huge hit from the pandemic that is still raging and while the powers that be are trying to push the heart of NYC's creative center out of the city.  Help me support them.

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