Garment District

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Interview with Eugene Salvay about his life and his family's experience with the Kansas City garment industry, with additional information provided by his nephew, Craig Solvay. He discusses his childhood in the 1920s, and his education in aircraft engineering which lead to job in World War II working on B-25s at the assembly plant in the Fairfax District in spite of antisemitism in the hiring process. He recalls his father's work as designer at Fashionbilt before moving on to mail-order company National Bellas Hess, and operating his own business designing custom coats. He also shares stories about his family roots in Lithuania, his Jewish identity and ancestry, and meeting Harry Truman in the 1930s. Solvay also mentions his participation in developing Israeli aviation and his relationship with Moshe Arens.

Video Recording

Interview with Mary Lou Chalmers about her experience working in Kansas City's garment industry from the late 1950s through late 1970s.. She discusses enrolling in the fashion design program at Kansas City Art Institute, as well as taking courses at Fanny Fern Fitzwater School of Fashion Illustration and the Isabelle Boldin School of Fashion, and then working in design and pattern-making at area garment companies such as Nelly Don and Gay Gibson. She describes the process of designing and making clothing, her experiences at numerous companies, the perks of working at Nelly Don, and times that her designs were featured in national magazines. She also discusses the decline of the garment fashion industry in the 1970s, the homogenization of shopping, and the shift to manufacturing in Asia.

Video Recording

Interview with historic preservationist Sally Schwenk about the importance, and difficulty, of preserving and sharing the history of Kansas City's garment industry. She discusses the importance of Kansas City's location as a railroad hub to its early industry, the boom in the industry following World War I, the impact of unionization, and changes in the location and design of facilities, and the later decline of the local industry. She also describes the Garment District surrounding 8th and Broadway, the loss of buildings and connectivity to other neighborhoods due to post-war freeway construction and demolition, and the challenges of running the Historic Garment District Museum.

Video Recording

Interview with Seymour Weiner about his life and experience working in Kansas City's garment industry. Weiner recalls his Polish immigrant parents owning an alterations and pressing business, going to work for garment industry "trimmings" supplier Hammer Brothers as a young man, starting a company called Krest Originals, and discusses the business model of an "item house," which manufactured a limited number of items. He discusses the shift in the marketplace from locally owned specialty stores to department stores and national chains, the change in the labor pool in the 1960s, the role of labor unions in the industry, and changes in the relationships between businesses and banks over the decades. After closing his factory, Weiner went to work in sales for Betty Rose Coats, and recounts financial and fashion reasons for the decline in the local and domestic garment industries.

Video Recording

Interview with Steve Hammer about his family's history in Kansas City garment industry. He discusses his family's company, Hammer Brothers, and how it adapted to industry changes by moving from suppliers and manufacturers for the coat and dress business, to promotional clothing and hats, to supplying the patch and athletic wear embroidery industry. He also discusses his Jewish identity, his relationship with the local Jewish community, and also discusses his maternal family's Cake Box Bakeries.

Video Recording

Interview with Bill Kort about his life and his experience in the Kansas City garment industry working as a "bundle boy" as a teenager at Brand and Puritz in the early 1960s. He discusses asking his neighbor and friend's father Arthur Brand for a summer job, and being hired as a bundle boy who would take piece goods from station to station to have buttons added, collars sewn, or other discrete parts of the manufacturing process. He discusses the diversity of the workforce, his memories of the Garment District and Downtown Kansas City, and his later career in investments at H. O. Peet.

Video Recording

Interview with Alice Nast Statland about her husband Nat Nast. She recounts her husband's history, their move to Kansas City, and his desire to go into the sport shirt business, and his later shift to specializing in bowling shirts. She discusses the business's popularity through the 1950s and '60s, and diversified into caps, jackets and other promotional apparel, and was sold by the family in the early '70s. The brand was revived as Nat Nast Luxury Originals menswear line by their daughters several decades later and garnered a lot of media exposure. She also notes that original Nat Nast shirts could command two to three hundred dollars at the time of the interview.

Video Recording

Interview with Bill Kaiser about his life and his company, the Bill Kaiser Company, which was a supplier to the Midwestern garment industry. He discusses his family's business importing sewing machine parts in New York, and starting his company in Kansas City after moving from New York in 1971 supplying local manufacturers with sewing machines and parts, pressing equipment, and other supplies. He notes that by 1971 manufacturing had largely moved out of the city into smaller regional towns, and says that he believes a resistance to new, faster technology and automation was a factor in the decline of the local industry. He also discusses the assembly line process of clothing manufacturing and the variety of machines and other equipment required for production, and the American garment industry's shift to overseas manufacturing.

Video Recording

Interview with Margie Sackin about her family's hardware and tool company, Harry Epstein Company, located in Kansas City's historic Garment District. Her father, Harry Epstein, started the business in 1930 and it served largely as a distributor to regional hardware stores, and continues to sell American-made tools primarily through its website. After Harry Epstein died in 1992, the business was run by her husband, Gene, and their sons, and a grandson. She discusses the social milieu of the garment district, local restaurants, the decline of the garment industry, and describes the operations of Harry Epstein Company, and their specialization in American-made tools, at the time of the interview.

Video Recording

Interview with Betty Brand about her family's history in and her experience with the Kansas City garment industry. Betty was married to Arthur Brand, whose family started the Brand and Puritz factory in 1928, and describes the family's experience in the garment business, the different suit and coat lines they manufactured, and the large number of immigrants among their staff. She also describes their experience in Kansas City's Jewish community, the retail and restaurant landscape of downtown Kansas City, and shares her paintings and photographs of her family and travels.

Video Recording