The Manufacturing Foundry Keeps Companies like Yorkland in San Francisco
Permanent, affordable space at SFMade’s multi-tenant building enables Yorkland to continue providing crucial support to local fashion designers.
For more than 20 years, Lynn Lu’s company, Yorkland Productions, has been creating patterns and prototypes for local clothing designers, from students to global brands like Levi’s, helping them realize their sartorial visions.
“We offer designers everything from design conception to production sourcing,” said Yorkland’s owner, Lynn Lu. “We bring their designs to life.”
San Francisco was once an epicenter of the garment industry, but today, Yorkland is one of only a few companies left that offer patterning and prototyping services – an important cog in the apparel ecosystem. San Francisco’s high rent and cost of living have made it a struggle for such companies to survive, according to Lu, and over the years many design and apparel companies have gone out of business or left the city for more affordable locales.
Indeed, in its 20 years, Yorkland has weathered two cycles of tech booms that caused rents to skyrocket, forcing the small company to move.
“We got kicked out when the first tech boom happened in the early 2000s, and it was really difficult to find an affordable space,” said Lu.
She eventually was able to find a facility near the intersection of Mission & Fifth Streets, where other sewing manufacturing companies were located. That space worked out for about 15 years, until SOMA blew up in the tech boom of the 2010s. This time, Lu was not as confident that she would be able to find a facility with affordable rent.
Fortunately, SFMade was getting ready to open the Manufacturing Foundry at 150 Hooper, a new, state-of-the-art manufacturing facility that would provide permanently affordable space to local manufacturers. Located in the heart of San Francisco’s emerging design district, the Foundry would guarantee below-market rent for manufacturers who have a history of and are committed to hiring low-income San Franciscans. Yorkland applied to be a tenant, was accepted, and moved in shortly after the building opened in 2018.
“This project not only provides much needed manufacturing space, it also offers permanently affordable housing for manufacturers, so they can continue living and working in San Francisco,” said Mayor London Breed at the Foundry’s ribbon cutting ceremony in October 2018.
“Because our Manufacturing Foundry at 150 Hooper provides permanently affordable space for tenants, it has a flywheel effect, stimulating innovation and creating new opportunities and pathways for careers in manufacturing for our most diverse residents far into the future,” said Kate Sofis, CEO of SFMade. “We’re so pleased that Yorkland and their employees found a secure home for their business, where they can grow without constantly worrying about losing their space.”
Lu is grateful to SFMade for giving her the opportunity to lease a beautiful, brand new, affordable space, and for letting her keep her business in the city she loves. Being located in the Foundry has also contributed to Yorkland’s growth. SFMade, which is headquartered in the Foundry, introduces Lu to designers who register for SFMade workshops and exposes potential new clients who participate in monthly tours of the building (before the pandemic) to Yorkland’s work.
“We are able to directly connect them with fashion designers who attend our apparel classes and are looking for a one-stop pattern making and prototyping shop,” said SFMade’s Chief Program Officer, Janet Lees.
“We have sunlight, open space, and everything is completely new,” said Lu. “I love this space, and my employees and clients love it, too. The tours of the building have brought in a diverse crowd of people who are very eager to understand our craft.”
The COVID-19 crisis forced Yorkland to shut down operations for a few months, but Lu was able to restart in late May. Concerned about the health of their employees, Lu and her husband York (the name “Yorkland” is a play on their names) carpool with their employees to and from work every day, “with masks on!” according to Lu.
Business has been slow due to the pandemic, with spring and summer orders cancelled. This is especially true for clients who create apparel and accessories for outdoor gatherings and festivals, according to Lu. But members of the design community are continuing to support each other as best as they can.
“I’m going to stay positive and get through the rest of the year and hope things pick up next year,” said Lu. “My family is in San Francisco, and I love this city. I’m not going anywhere.”