Otis Report: L.A.s’ Creative Economy Slowly Regaining Jobs, but Fashion Manufacturing Continues to Shrink

The Los Angeles County fashion industry is the second-largest sector in the local creative economy, right behind the entertainment industry and just ahead of the publishing industry.

While the county’s fashion industry employed 89,900 people in 2013, those numbers are declining and will continue to shrink in the future, according to the recent “Otis Report on the Creative Economy,” which concentrates its analysis on Los Angeles and Orange counties.

The annual report, which has been prepared every year since 2007, aims to give the arts and other creative industries statistical backing to persuade local officials to adopt arts-friendly policies. It is prepared by the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. at the behest of the Otis College of Art and Design, which has a fashion school located at the California Market Center.

In 2008, Los Angeles County employed 98,000 workers in the fashion industry. That dipped 8.2 percent to 89,900 in 2013 and is expected to shrink another 12.2 percent to 79,000 in 2018.

Fashion jobs are also sinking in Orange County. In 2008, there were 12,600 people employed in the fashion industry, but by 2013 that had dropped by 12.7 percent to 11,000 positions. In 2018, it is estimated that fashion industry employment will decline again to 10,000 jobs.

Still, Los Angeles and Orange counties continue to employ the largest number of apparel workers in the United States, with a labor income of $4.2 billion.

While many cut-and-sew jobs are being outsourced to Asia and Latin America, Los Angeles and Orange counties remain the center for apparel design as well as production of high-end fashions and fast fashion.

The largest employer of creative talent was dominated by the entertainment industry, which was responsible for 132,700 jobs in Los Angeles County. That made up about 37 percent of the 355,600 creative jobs in the area.

Even though the entertainment industry and Hollywood have been the cornerstone of creativity in Los Angeles, it too has shed a few jobs over the past few years due to runaway production headed to more economically friendly zones such as New York, Atlanta and Canada. In 2008, there were 143,100 people working in the entertainment industry.

But many are banking on a recently revamped tax credit passed by the state legislature last fall that triples the California film tax credit to $330 million over the next five years and should bring back some production. It is estimated that by 2018 entertainment jobs will grow 12.6 percent to 149,400 positions.

Even though the national and state economies are headed for solid expansion, the creative industries in the Los Angeles region still have not returned to their 2006 greatness, when employment peaked.

While just about every industry was affected by the Great Recession, which took place between 2008 and 2010, the creative industries took a bigger hit. A lot of that is due to the disproportionate share of manufacturing jobs that make up the creative economy.

In general, manufacturing in 2013 made up 9.4 percent of the jobs in the Los Angeles/Orange County region. But in the creative sector, manufacturing made up 28.7 percent of the local employment.

Between 2008 and 2013, job counts in the overall manufacturing sector declined by 13.8 percent while in the creative economy, manufacturing slipped 21.3 percent.

The greater decline in creative sector manufacturing comes from the fact that more apparel and furniture production is being outsourced to overseas factories, where labor is much cheaper than in the United States.

The report notes that some of these manufacturing jobs may return as the economy reverts to full employment, but advanced technologies and greater productivity puts a damper on that.

So, what do all these creative types earn? It’s all over the map. Of course, if you consider actors, musicians and producers, many are earning millions.

But the behind-the-scenes people have a more down-to-earth salary. In 2013, the annual median wage for advertising and promotion managers was $133,320, among the highest in the creative economy.

In the fashion industry, the median salary for a fashion designer in 2013 was $65,440, up 0.7 percent from the previous year, even though there are some Los Angeles designers who are pulling in more than $1 million a year.

Fabric and apparel patternmakers earned $52,670 in 2013, a 14.3 percent upswing over the previous year.

Over the next few years, the creative economy in Los Angeles County will continue to grow by 3.2 percent with creative jobs in 2018 growing to 363,000 in Los Angeles County. The largest gains will be in the entertainment and digital media sectors.

Modest gains will be seen in the furniture and decorative arts sectors as home building and construction boom. This growth will be tempered by employment declines in fashion, publishing and printing.