R & M Kaufmann 1922 - 1992
It was 1920 when brothers Rudolf and Max Kaufmann formed a partnership to sell bloomers and camisoles under their own brand name. With confidence and energy from several years’ experience as salesmen for an eastern shirtwaist and lingerie manufacturer, it still must have taken courage. It was a time of rapid inflation and changing times as the Roaring 20’s began with novelty of radio broadcasts and shorter women’s skirts. The hem was a scandalous nine inches above ground. Flappers wore thin dresses and short sleeves.
In addition to the Kaufmann brothers, Rudolf’s son Eugene , just 19 years old, left Hart, Schaffner & Marx to take charge of manufacturing. That comprised all of a single cutting table and machine along with seven sewing machines at 4845 Milwaukee Avenue in Chicago.
Through blizzards, sizzling heat, bad and non-existent roads, Rudolf and Max called on department and dry goods store managers to build orders needed to keep their young firm alive. Throughout the Midwest, customers came to rely on Kaufmann garments for quality and valued the brothers’ expert knowledge of retailing and merchandising as well as fair dealing and customer service.
As the 1920’s roared, sales followed, the plant was expanded and in 1926 the partnership became a corporation. As the Chicago plant couldn’t keep pace with sales growth, Gene looked for a factory with expansion potential. William Flentye’s Aurora Garment Company in a 12,000 square loft on the second floor of River and West Benton in Aurora was selected and R & M Kaufmann moved to Aurora in 1926.
With the good times rolling, people were singing “I found a million dollar baby in a five and ten cent store”. And they were buying Kaufmann garments at an increasing clip. As Americans were dazzled with the first talking movies, Kaufmann first included expansion to adjoining building at 41 W. Benton to keep up with sales.
As the Roaring 20’s gave way to the Depression 30’s, business empires collapsed, yawned and said goodnight. To stay quick on their feet and stay alive, Kaufmann instead capitalized on the then-new pajama fad. And with vigor, they went into new fields as they introduced knit pajamas, cotton print designs and bell bottom pants.
The most important change of the depression decade was the industry’s shift to mass production of ladies’ dresses at affordable prices. Kaufmann’s vision already possessed the needed mass production skill and for years had held prices low. So off they went on the way to become a leading producer of inexpensive house dresses as leading department and specialty stores eagerly placed orders for these new lines, many retailing for as low as $1.
Also in the 1930’s, Kaufmann revolutionized the garment industry by adding their own novel embroidery, applique and cornelli trim, while other garment manufacturers continued to rely on New York trim manufacturers. This new Kaufmann trim touch spurred industry sales to new heights and led to a new Kaufmann factory in Clinton, Iowa. Both Aurora and Clinton plants became testing sites for newly designed sewing machines and attachments to keep Kaufmann at the forefront of modern equipment.
As the company grew through the 1930’s, other members of the family rose to prominence, such as Chuck in styling and fabrics and Lester in merchandising. By the end of the 1930’s Kaufmann introduced junior sizes and Vicky Vaughn Junior was added to well known Adorable Frocks and Loveable Frocks labels.
After World War II, advertising campaigns in Charm, Glamour, Mademoiselle, Seventeen, and Life magazines built national popularity for Kaufmann’s Toni Todd, Vicky Vaughn Jr. and Lady Laura. Six new Illinois plants were opened to meet demand. An era ended in 1944 when Max died, and Eugene became president. Another passed with Gene’s retirement in 1966 and Lester’s presidency in 1968.
Lester guided Kaufmann into an acquisition by Russ Togs, a publicly held sportswear company, in 1969. When he retired in 1977, his son Joel assumed the presidency. In 1988 the Kaufmann family bought the firm back from Russ Togs and continued Aurora operations into the 1990’s when Joel sold it to Global Clothing, Inc. With the love of the rag trade in his family’s blood for nearly a century, Joel continues as an executive helping a younger generation garment company head thrive in an ever increasingly competitive worldwide market. And all from the same Chicago that was roots of his family firm in 1920.
Joel Kaufmann , Aurora Beacon News, R&M KaufmannCompany Brochure