When Philip Roth wrote about the glove industry he did good research, and anyone keen to learn about gloves, particularly the dress glove business, should definitely read this book. Roth travelled to that most famous American city of gloves – Gloversville – in up state New York and met with senior, experienced glove industry experts These included people like John Widdemer of Hilts-Willard who have been making dress gloves since their foundation in Gloversville in 1878.
The story of Newark Maid Gloves, which is a very successful leather dress glove manufacturer owned by the Levov family rings very true in many aspects, making it such a good read. Instead of Gloversville it has been moved to the much bigger and more industrial city of Newark. Curiously Newark did have a strong leather industry, but not for gloves. Also there certainly was an important, but not dominant Jewish element in the Gloversville industry.
The timing of the story allows the family – prosperous and apparently very happy – to be disrupted by the events of the 1960s, in particularly the Vietnam War. While there were a few factories like Maid Gloves left in Gloversville at that time, and a lot in Europe, in reality the struggle with US gloves took place 50-60 years earlier. A series of strikes over pay created so many problems that the owners did, as in the book, reluctantly move their factories to Puerto Rico, and later to the Philippines.
I feel I have a lot of overlap as I worked in the leather industry in the US in 1968, and was based in Newark. In fact I spent a day with the Chief of Police being shown how policing was carried out after the riots and the Warren Report. Later in my career I have got to know Gloversville well, and my first trip to the Philippines was in 1987 when I visited two huge US plants Aris and Fownes. One employed 12,000 workers and the 6,000 at that time. During the 1990s Aris moved to India and Fownes largely to China.
23rd May 2018