The end of the thread for Kansas City’s once-bustling Garment District

“Right around the turn of the twentieth century, there were a lot of small shops, dressmakers and tailors, run by immigrants from the various European countries, in the Garment District—from Sixth Street to 11th Street north and south between Washington and Wyandotte.

“They set themselves up downtown close to the wholesale district, which was why that area was chosen. It really took off after World War I. The twenties were a really good time for the district. A lot of companies came into existence. The District itself was the largest employer of women in the Kansas City metro area, and it was the second-largest employer in the city. It was huge in terms of the number of people it employed. In its heyday it had over a thousand employees. Its claim to fame is that they did something called ‘piecemeal.’ It was called the sectional system. The whole garment wouldn’t be done by one person. One person would just do sleeves, or one person would just do zippers or buttons. It became something that the Kansas City Garment District was known for.

“Each worker was assigned to make only one part of a garment over and over, and this just streamlined production. World War II provided a lot of military contracts, so a lot of them kept busy. Then the post-war years were kind of their peak. In the mid-sixties going into the seventies, you started seeing a lot more overseas work and a lot of work being taken out of the country, so you started seeing some companies going out of business. Downtown at the time was experiencing a lot of retail businesses leaving, either closing down or moving out of the area. So probably by the early eighties there were a few companies still in the district. By the middle of the eighties they were all gone.” —Denise Morrison, director of collections and curatorial services at Kansas City Museum, as told to Lauren Underwood.

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