Tailor Made: The Story of Rochester’s Garment Industry

(Rochester, NY) – WXXI captures the fascinating story of the local garment industry and the people who contributed to it in Tailor Made: The Story of Rochester’s Garment Industry, premiering Monday, February 29 at 8 p.m. on WXXI-TV. The documentary showcases the rich history of Rochester’s clothing industry from Michaels-Stern & Co. to the Button Factory to one of the country’s oldest and most prestigious clothiers – Hickey Freeman. It tells the story of immigration and the men and women who came to Rochester in search of work and a better life.

Before Rochester was known as home to giant manufacturers such as Kodak and Xerox, it was a leader in the clothing and textile industry. In fact, in the late 1800s the garment trade was one of the biggest employers in the city. And, in the 1890s Rochester was the 4th largest manufacturer of men’s clothing in the U.S.  Tailor Made weaves historical facts, personal accounts, family stories, and archival footage into a captivating saga of an industry that put Rochester on the global map.

Tailor Made opens with an introduction to Rochester’s first tailor, Jehiel Barnard. Barnard came to Rochester in 1812 and set up shop in a building that is now the Reynolds Arcade. By 1834 at least 20 tailors were operating in Rochester.

Viewers will learn about Rochester resident Elizabeth Baker and how her invention of standardized patterns had a huge impact on the garment business. It meant clothing could be mass produced – and made Rochester a leader in Civil War uniform production. Rochester Museum and Science Center Collections Coordinator Sarah LeCount shares with viewers a beautifully crafted Civil War officer’s frock coat that is part of the museum’s collection.

The documentary follows the introduction of the sewing machine, which moved piece work out of the home and into factories. It also looks at the role Susan B. Anthony and the Women’s Rights Movement played in improving poor working conditions. 

Duffy Hickey, the grandson of Hickey Freeman co-founder Jerry Hickey, shares how his grandfather became one of the giants in Rochester’s clothing industry. By the end of the Great Depression, the industry was largely controlled by an elite group of companies known as “The Big Five:” Hickey-Freeman, Bonds Clothes, Michael-Sterns, Fashion Park, and Timely Clothes. The documentary explains how the Rochester Button Factory played an important role in the industry, providing buttons for many of the major fashion houses throughout the world.

Tailor Made also remembers the Feinbloom Brothers and their impact on sportswear with their company, Champion Products. They launched the very first sports sweater, which became a huge success and was immediately copied by others in the industry. Today, Champion is the outfitter for many collegiate and professional teams, and their active wear is worn by people of all walks of life.

Viewers meet today’s craftspeople – a tailor, a textile artist, and a clothing designer. They also hear from B. Thomas Golisano, Rep. Louise Slaughter, Senator Charles Schumer, Scott Pitoniak, Burt August, John LiDestri, and many others who share their connections to the industry.

Narrated by Classical 91.5 host Brenda Tremblay, Tailor Made tells the story of the clothiers who revolutionized the garment business and the immigrant workers who made Rochester a key player in the industry.



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WXXI Media Contact:

Kristin Tutino

Creative Services Department



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