Costs of Entry Were Low in Entrepreneurial Garment Industry in 1900

(p. 146) This was the second great advantage of the garment
industry. It wasn’t just that it was growing by leaps and bounds. It was also explicitly entrepreneurial. Clothes weren’t made in a single big factory. Instead, a number of established firms designed patterns and prepared the fabric, and then the complicated stitching and pressing and button attaching were all sent out to small contractors. And if a contractor got big enough, or ambitious enough, he started designing his own patterns and preparing his own fabric. By 1913, there were approximately (p. 147) sixteen thousand separate companies in New York City’s garment business, many just like the Borgenichts’ shop on Sheriff Street.

“The threshold for getting involved in the business was very low. It’s basically a business built on the sewing machine, and sewing machines don’t cost that much,” says Daniel Soyer, a historian who has written widely on the garment industry. “So you didn’t need a lot of capital. At the turn of the twentieth century, it was probably fifty dollars to buy a machine or two. All you had to do to be a contractor was to have a couple sewing machines, some irons, and a couple of workers. The profit margins were very low but you could make some money.”

Source:
Gladwell, Malcolm. Outliers: The Story of Success. New York, NY: Little, Brown, and Co., 2008.

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