Three decades ago Daejae Kim arrived in Los Angeles and entered the apparel business for in downtown’s fashion district, where a thriving Korean entrepreneurial community was beginning to take hold. Kim’s wife worked as clerk and he peddled textiles, eventually building his own wholesale and manufacturing business selling trendy women's clothing. Today, Korean businesses comprise a third, maybe even half of the businesses in the garment district. According to the Korean American Apparel Manufacturers Association, they generate around $10 billion in annual revenues and provide 20,000 jobs.
However, now, Kim and other Korean American clothing manufacturers are considering new destinations as they say they are squeezed by Los Angeles' rising minimum wage, strict labour enforcement and ebbing South American clientele following a Federal raid against alleged money laundering operations in 2014. Thus, they are looking at relocating to El Paso.
A few days ago, a broker from the Texas border town visited LA to describe factory space and talk price per square foot with the business owners. Besides, the trade association that represents 1,800 Korean-American manufacturers and distributors, later this month, would be sending a group to scout El Paso. However, Kim says that the proposal is in its preliminary stages, with only a few dozen companies until now expressing a serious interest in moving.
While they aware scouting El Paso, the trade association’s representatives also planned to meet El Paso officials and view potential factory sites. Richard Cho, President of the association, said that there's little risk that Los Angeles' garment district will abruptly empty as business owners collectively migrate elsewhere.