Op Ed: Immigration Reform Crucial to Colorado's Fashion Industry

Colorado Fashion Week 2012, soon after it began.
Colorado Fashion Week 2012, soon after it began.
Jim Willis
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When I founded Colorado Fashion Week in 2011, my mission was to build an economically sustainable, well-respected and professionally organized fashion trade event for the state of Colorado. Over the last several years, I have enjoyed seeing the industry grow in Colorado and become a fiscal driver to our local economy.

The fashion industry is powered by diversity. Ideas are shared and new designs are inspired by people who come from different backgrounds.

Immigrants who come to the States are willing to work hard and sacrifice to contribute. As fashion designer Diane Von Furstenberg says, “We take great risks and are willing to leave everything behind in pursuit of big dreams and ideas. We believe in ourselves. We believe in our work. We believe in America.”

The U.S. fashion industry is an invaluable economic driver to our GDP. Nationally, the fashion industry employs almost 2 million people and generates over $250 billion in annual revenue — an undeniable economic impact.

But we stand to lose our competitive advantage and well-earned, positive economic standing due to the current immigration policies of our country, a loss that will very negatively and directly impact Colorado’s fashion industry and the efforts thus far gained.

International designers and key industry talent are hesitant to explore business relationships nationally because of the hostile nature of our immigration system. That is a big blow to an industry that has long thrived on the enrichments made by the substantial contributions of immigrants from across the globe.

In May 2018, the Council of Fashion Designers of America and FWD.us released a report with qualitative data on the impact of immigration policy on the U.S. fashion industry. The study examines how the skills and talents of immigrants from around the world have contributed to the industry’s success.

Fashion thrives on diversity. Immigrants guarantee this reality and more: People from different backgrounds and cultures bring fresh styles and new ideas. Many of the most well-known U.S. brands were founded by immigrants and their children.

Those of us in the fashion industry overwhelmingly support a comprehensive reform of our outdated immigration laws in order to attract the best industry talent to the United States and states like Colorado. Our leaders have provided a clearly outlined set of recommendations for reform, including a direct pathway to legal immigration status for those affected, for example. Another key recommendation is a request for an increase in the number of H-1B visas offered to, and for, foreign industry talent — which, simply put, will be a positive socio-economic win for the U.S. and its economy.

It is only with these and similarly proactive policy changes that Colorado will continue to maintain its budding fashion economy.

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