By Rebekah Keida / Columnist
Miami’s fashion district, running from 29th St. and Fifth Ave. to 23rd St., tinseled with shops flaunting vivid gowns and glitzy jewelry is not to be confused with Manhattan’s ritzy Fifth Avenue.
“Everything is under a $100.00. All of the Miami boutique owners shop here,” says 23-year-old Simonett Pereira, owner of StyleMafia, a line mostly dealing in wholesale but has a retail shop on 23rd street.
Pereira estimates some 13,000 boutiques buy their merchandise from wholesale distributors that call this fashion district home.
“There’s a mixture of Miami boutique owners pulling up in their Range Rovers and little fat ladies with huge garbage bags that are buying in bulk for South America,” Pereira says.
But just because these are wholesale distributors doesn’t mean you need to be buying for a boutique to shop there. Most places allow individual sale of items, or, if you bring friends, you can pay wholesale price.
Pereira has known about the fashion district since she was little, when it used to be located on 20th St. and 20th Ave.
“My mom used to take me and say, ‘Oh, let’s buy this cheap stuff here because it’s the same stuff that the boutiques have, but half the price.’”
For Korean-born Brazilian-raised Hie K. Blinder, 53, the fashion district has always been on Fifth Ave.
Blinder came here from Brazil in the 1990s. Her shop, Hannah Bella, stands on a corner painted black and spray-painted with white birds; a trick that she says keeps the graffiti artists from tagging her building.
“Fashion has always been in my family. I grew up in this business in Brazil. I was 10-years-old, helping them with their manufacturing business. I went to college and studied civil engineering, but, when I moved to Miami, I got back into working with fashion.”
Mass migrations of South Koreans seeking job opportunities in 192 Brazil created a thriving Korean presence in Bom Retiro and Bras, the two huge fashion districts in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (Blinder’s family still owns multiple businesses there, while Blinder has been in business in Miami for over 14 years) In fact, many Miami fashion district shop owners are Korean.
“A lot of things are happening around this area, which is great,” Blinder says about the buildup going on just a few blocks east, in Wynwood.
But the change has not all been for the best. Renewed interest in this area that was once filled with abandoned warehouses and graffiti, has caused a lot of investment and development. One of the biggest developers in the area is Moishe Mana, also known as Mana Wynwood.
“They are very picky about who they have as tenants now,” Pereira says, citing a fellow wholesale business next to StyleMafia whose lease was not renewed.
For Blinder and her shop Hannah Bella, the initial lease was six years with an automatic renewal every three years. However, as of last month, her original landlord sold to someone in New York.
“I see big developers and big money coming in. I think the fashion district is not going to be the fashion district anymore,” Blinder says of the change. “I think we will be moving this district somewhere else. I think they want to turn this into a Midtown full of art, industry, and restaurants.”
Although it is ugly now, Blinder plans to move in a few years, to 20th St. in Allapattah—the same street Pereira used to shop with her mother at.
“It has potential to be the new fashion district. It is how this area used to be.”
Beyond changing physical locations, Blinder says the dynamics of her business are changing as well.
“My biggest customers now like selling all of their clothing online. Those that aren’t are disappearing.”
The average age has changed, too. Blinder used to work with men and women in their 40s and 50s, but now, her best clients are in their 20s. She believes technology is making it easier for young people to own their own businesses.
“There is so much business through the social network. It is a different era.”
Pereira, however, has no plans to leave the fashion district on Fifth Ave. She hopes that one day it will become like Manhattan’s meatpacking district.
“Nothing ever dies, it just changes into something else. It is transforming into a new area. I feel like it’s becoming trendy and I think we [StyleMafia] are one of the pioneers.”