Leeds is a city of multifarious industries, but if by ill-chance it were at any time to lose its clothing trade it would be like Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark, an article in Men’s Wear, a trade publication, declares. Leeds began its career with wool. For 400 years, so the records show, it was predominantly woollen. Following the industrial revolution, coal and iron took first place, but the wholesale clothing industry (introduced to the city in 1855) has now established itself as the largest single industry within its boundaries. And it has made Leeds one of the biggest clothing centers in the world. One firm alone employs 10,000 workpeople, and the most recently-compiled statistics show that nearly 10,000 males and more than 36,000 females are employed in the industryâ€”or nearly one-tenth of the population of the city.
The big majority of clothing firms in Leeds are owned by men of Jewish persuasion. The working conditions are unquestionably of the best, and compare favorably and frequently excel those obtaining in the best managed establishments of other industries. Roughly speaking, there are some 200 clothing establishments in and around Leeds today and, according to many responsible people in the trade, expansion is not only still going on but is likely to continue for years to come.
THE ROLE OF A KNIFE
In a survey of the history of the Leeds clothing industry, the story would be incomplete if there were no mention of the part played by the invention of the bandknife for cutting cloth. This knife was made by a Leeds enginering firm in collaboration with the late Sir John Barran, and from 1858 to the present day it has been used for cutting suits in bulk.
All the authorities claim that this machine-knife has had en enormous influence in cheapening the cost of production, and without its aid it is questionable if the firms which started in the early days of the establishment of the clothing trade on Leeds could have lived. By the employment of this ingenious device, of course, a large number of suits of clothing can be cut out in an incredibly short time.
CREATED SALES OUTLETS
At any rate, it was after the introduction of the bandknife, in 1858, that the cutting-out of the parts for the making of suits went on at such a speed that the makers-up could scarcely bring over Russian Jews fast enough to cope with the trade. For long years the Jews sowed and others reaped. Who can complain that now so many clothing business in Leeds are controlled by Jews? Moreover, they have not been content with the making-up of cloths. They have set up a great organization for selling them. Thus at the present time there are hundreds of retail shops in different parts of the British Isles controlled by Leeds Jewish clothiers.
What a difference to the early years when Mr. William Campbell travelled his wares! He had to bear the rebuffs and insults of indignant retail tailors, who often threatened to “kick him out” if he dared to show his face again. His calm reply was: “Well, you will have to come to it.” How true!
SUCCEEDED ON JEWISH LABOR
One of the earliest Jews of prominence in the Leeds clothing trade was Herman Friend. John Barran’s firm succeeded largely because Jewish labor was found for him, and it was Herman Friend who found that labor. John Barran, who was the son of a London gunmaker, came to Leeds to be an assistant to the late Alderman Gresham, pawnbroker and clothier, and he eventually opened a little shop as a clothier on his own account at the south end of Leeds Bridge. About 1856, Herman Friend made up ready-made clothes and took them to be sold in John Barran’s shop. That was the small beginning of their business relationship.
Before that it was the habit of working-men to wear fustian clothing or cast-off clothing of their better-off neighbors, but the era of cheap ready-mades changed all that.
However neither Herman Friend nor any of the earlier Jews who set themselves up as employers reaped the full measure of the prosperity which came to the trade from this small beginning, and it was only after the dawn of the twentieth century that Leeds Jewish clothiers launched out both as manufacturers and retailers. Only then did they come into the field as competitors for the rich harvest which might have been theirs for the asking in the earlier years.
RESPONSIBLE FOR PROSPERITY
No one denounced the introduction of cheap Jewish labor into Leeds more than the Gentile working-man, but, whatever effect the presence of the Jews had at that time in keeping down wages, one must at least acknowledge today that it was Jewish labor which made possible the present-day prosperity in the Leeds clothing industry, the Men’s Wear article states.
Thus in the history of the Jewish community in Leeds and its influence upon the clothing trade the name of the late Mr. Herman Friend is writ large. He was the only tailor among the first hundred Jewish settlers in the city and, in addition to the part he played with John Barran in the founding of the clothing industry, he was the creator of the divisional labor system which really made the trade what it is today.
If you’ve got something to sell, an excellent way of selling it is through the columns of the Jewish Daily Bulletin. Call AShland 4-3093 for rates.