The 'Revolution' in the Manufacture of Ready-made Clothing 1840–60
Author: Chapman, Stanley
Source: The London Journal, Volume 29, Number 1, May 2004 , pp. 44-61(18)
Publisher: Maney Publishing
Abstract:The development of the ready-made clothing industry has been assumed to be a consequence of the invention of the sewing machine in the 1850s, and the spread of multiple retailing to follow from that. This article focuses on the innovating entrepreneurs in this branch of the textile industry, Elias Moses & Son of Aldgate, London, to show how mass-marketing of men's wear grew vigorously during the previous decade. The firm's enterprise was presaged by some external developments in the early decades of the nineteenth century, notably the standardisation of tailors' cutting systems, the decline in cloth prices with the rise of cut-price drapers, growing demand for basic clothing for the forces, emigrants and institutional uniforms, badly-paid immigrant workers and rising real incomes of the population at large.
These favourable circumstances allowed the innovators to prosper on low labour costs, high turnover linked to long runs and modest margins, and all the razzmatazz of high-pressure selling, above all saturation of the market with advertising material and spectacular buildings and displays. It appears that quality was maintained within the segmented production lines and that Moses and several of their rivals sold wholesale as well as retail. Moses were quickly copied not only in London but also in a number of provincial cities.
Elias Moses was sure that his enterprise amounted to a revolution in the clothing industry and in conclusion his claim is examined as an historical proposition. Jewish entrepreneurs were more willing to break the mould of long-established restrictive practices in the London industry. The economies introduced by the sewing machine were much less significant than has been assumed because sewing was only a small part of production costs. The larger cost was marketing, which Moses reduced before proceeding to the new technology.
Document Type: Research Article
Publication date: 2004-05-01