Joseph & Feiss employees pose for a photo around their sewing machines. FACT: the work in garment factories was gendered, women typically did the sewing/construction jobs, while men did the pressing. (Image via Google Images)
A look inside the Cleveland garment industry: Joseph & Feiss employees are pictured at work. (Image via Google Images).
You might not know it, but Cleveland was once considered the center of the American garment industry as it was one of the largest garment manufacturing cities next to New York. What is also little known is the importance of the Jewish community to the success of Cleveland’s garment industry.
Located in Beachwood, OH–This amazing resource gives us a look into not only the history of the Jewish community, but also serves a an insight into Cleveland’s history as a whole.
#UCStyleFiles went on location to the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage for Dr. Connie Korosec’s FH 300 Color and Presentation Board class to learn history of Cleveland’s (and the Jewish community’s) role in the garment manufacturing industry as we viewed a very special lecture from Sean Martin, associate curator for Jewish history at the Western Reserve Historical Society. (Martin is the author of several articles about Cleveland and Polish Jewish history, and is currently working on his next project–a history of Cleveland’s garment industry).
Cleveland’s rich history comes alive for FH 300 students at the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage.
Martin’s lecture outlined the growth and decline of the local garment industry. As quoted in the Cleveland Jewish News, Martin states, “Jews immigrated to America in the 1880s and 1920s when consumer goods were taking off, and they were able to get into the garment industry” (Cleveland Jewish News). Further, Martin reveals, “As Jewish families brought more family members to the U.S., they went into business with them or established enterprises of their own which supported the garment industry” (CJN).
Advancements in technology such as this knitting machine allowed manufacturing companies to efficiently create intricate fabrics for garments, and produce sweater knits.
Compex, woven textiles were made possible with the emergence of new technology in Cleveland’s manufacturing companies.
As noted in the Cleveland Jewish News article, Cleveland’s garment manufacturing companies included Joseph and Feiss on West 53rd Street, which lasted until the 1990s; Richman Brothers, on 55th Street, one of the largest clothing chains in America in the 1950s; Work Wear, which manufactured and rented out uniforms; and Ohio Knitting Mills–it is noted that this company had more than 1,000 workers in it’s heyday. Moreover, Ohio Knitting Mills now exists on Perkins Avenue in Cleveland.
My great-grandfather, Harry Blank was an employee of Joseph & Feiss, which makes this part of Cleveland history a family legacy for me and my family.
Joseph & Feiss holds particular importance to me, as I have a personal connection to the rich history of Cleveland’s garment industry: my great-grandfather, Harry Blank (a tailor from a long line of tailors) immigrated from Montreal, Quebec, Canada to work at Joseph & Feiss (as a tailor, of course, his job was to cut and measure cloth). In fact, my great-grandfather wasn’t my only family member involved in the garment industry: His brother, (great-uncle Sam) was a master tailor at Bullocks in Beverly Hills, who designed and made clothes for actors and actresses and very wealthy people.
Joseph & Feiss was once a booming business, a leading manufacturing company.
Though the Joseph & Feiss building is a shell of what it once was, the building remains as an important landmark, a reminder of our successful history in the garment industry. (image via Google Images)
Originally a dry goods store (they sold the cloth and raw materials) from Meadville, PA, Joseph & Feiss began under the name Koch & Loeb before changing its name to Kaufman Koch–they established a wholesale store on 82 Superior Street in Cleveland after realizing the demand for ready-to-wear clothing had increased during the war. Eventually the name was changed again to Joseph & Feiss in 1907 after partners Isaac and Moritz Joseph and Julius Feiss. The company relocated again to 2149 W. 53 Street in 1920. Joseph & Feiss owed their success to heavily advertising its $14 blue serge suit, which was dubbed the “Model T” of the clothing industry, a staple piece for the “Clothcraft” company. According to the Encyclopedia of Cleveland, Joseph & Feiss improved its efficiency “by introducing new methods, machines, and scientific management to improve its production and to cut costs.” Fast forward a few years, and Joseph & Feiss went on to merge with Phillips-Van Heusen Corp. in 1966 while still under the same name and Cleveland operations. Joseph & Feiss continued produce and sell tailored men’s apparel under the Cricketeer and Country Britches label and in 1980, it add tailored clothes for women to its line. In 1989,Joseph & Feiss was acquired by Hugo Boss AG, a West German clothing and accessory firm and it became a division of its subsidiary, T.J.F.C. Inc. of New York (Encyclopedia of Cleveland).
In 1995 the company had 800 workers in the Cleveland area. “The following year, facing stiff competition from lower-priced imports and a growing acceptance among Americans for casual clothing, Joseph & Feiss discontinued production of its Cricketeer and Country Britches labels and subsequently layed off over 200 workers” (Encyclopedia of Cleveland). In 1997, Joseph & Feiss again relocated its manufacturing operations from its W. 53rd St. plant to its distribution center on Tiedeman Road in BROOKLYN. Today, Joseph & Feiss, and its nearly 450 employees, continues to produce suits, sport coats, and slacks for the upscale Hugo Boss brand (Encyclopedia of Cleveland).
Fortunately, there are continuing efforts to bring the garment industry back to Cleveland, including The Factory 2.0, an incubator company founded by Clevelander Devin Vandermaas. The Factory 2.0 helps manage local fashion designers who are trying to break into the growing industry.
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