Speculative Production of ReadyToWear as a Mature Industry

By the 1920s mass production and mass merchandising were fully integrated into the ready-to-wear industry. The focus of advertising had shifted from declarations of quality to exhortations urging readers to keep up with fashion, and from an emphasis on men's wear to one on women's wear. This gave impetus to the modern industry's strategy of rapid fashion change. The women's ready-to-wear industry in the United States became concentrated in New York City between Sixth Avenue and Ninth Avenue from 35th Street to 41st Street, where 65 percent of the women's garment workers were employed by 1940. The proximity of manufacturers to labor and suppliers as well as associated businesses gave New York firms the flexibility to react quickly and efficiently to changing fashions. Employment in the domestic American apparel industry peaked in 1950 at 1.4 million.

Jerry Silverman, Inc., a manufacturer of women's better dresses, organized in 1959, provides an example of

Poor Women Suits 1940
Used goods sold in open-air market. People sort through used clothing at this outdoor market in Kenya in 2000. Because of the poor economy and resulting widespread poverty, this type of business forms an integral part of Kenya's informal economy. © AP/Wide World Photos. Reproduced by permission.

typical production processes. In 1970 Silverman sold dresses at wholesale from $39.75 to $89.75 to about 3,000 stores nationwide, where they cost the consumer from $70 to $175. Not including CMT (cut, make, trim) contractors, the firm employed about eighty people. Shannon Rodgers, the firm's designer, had his name on the label, an unusual acknowledgment when most designers working for manufacturers remain anonymous.

To develop a concept for his ready-to-wear line in a given season, Rodgers went to Europe to view collections. The industry in the United States usually depends on Parisian fashion ideas, especially for silhouette and color. However, the complex and detailed French haute couture (fine, luxurious made-to-order clothing) cannot be directly copied for ready-to-wear garments intended to fit thousands of consumers. Rodgers was skilled at taking single elements of a haute couture design, for example, a skirt detail, a neckline treatment, or a sleeve style,

French Woment Laborforce
Women sew clothes at a textile mill. Women constitute the majority of the labor force in the apparel industry throughout the world. © Brownie Harris/Corbis. Reproduced by permission.

and incorporating them into various garments, getting perhaps six ready-to-wear ideas from a single haute couture garment. These trips also gave Rodgers ideas for fabric choices that would give the finished garment the texture, volume, and movement he envisioned.

After sketches for the line were completed, fabrics and trimmings were purchased and a sample produced in company workrooms. Once the sample had been approved, it was sent to the pattern maker, graded into various sizes, and sent out to be duplicated for fashion show and showroom use. The Silverman fashion show for retail buyers and the fashion press usually featured about 100 different styles. Initial orders from buyers were confirmed after approval from the stores they represented. The success of the business depended on the quantity of confirmed orders and timely delivery—first of the fabrics and trimmings for production and then of the finished garments to the stores—as well as keeping production costs minimized.

Outside contractors cut the garments, bundled the pieces of each individual dress, and sent the bundles to machine operators for sewing. After sewing, the garments were finished, pressed, and returned to the Silverman Company for a final quality check and proper labeling. Labels included the firm's label, "Shannon Rodgers for Jerry Silverman," the union label, fiber content and cleaning instructions, style and size, and the store label and price tag.

Next came the firm's promotion and advertising to prepare customers for the new season. Once the finished garments had been shipped and received by the store, retail display, promotion, and advertising began. The sales person and the customer at the point-of-sale completed the business process.

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