The story of GANT begins with a Ukrainian boy in search of a better life who sailed to America, fell in love, found success and forever changed American style. Berl Gantmacher was a miller’s son from Miropol in Ukraine who, by the time he was a teenager, had already made his way from the Russian Empire to Rotterdam. From there he continued west, embarking on the S.S. Potsdam, a Holland America Line steamship, and sailing to New York City. Archives at Ellis Island record him arriving on November 12, 1907. He was 17 years old.
Like so many Jewish immigrants before him, he Americanized his name – Berl became Bernard – and set about improving himself. He enrolled in night classes at Columbia University’s College of Pharmacy but during the day he found work in the city’s bustling garment industry on the Lower East Side. It was hard work – he was as a “closer,” someone who assembles garments – but it developed his entrepreneurial zeal and taught him tailoring. It also introduced him to Rebecca Rose, a woman with a job sewing buttonholes and buttons. She would later become his wife.
At the outbreak of the First World War, Bernard joined the US Army and went to fight in France. Upon completing his military service he returned to New York with a renewed desire to succeed. He graduated from college, married Rebecca, and decided the time was right to go into business for himself. With his partner Morris Shapiro he founded the Par-Ex Shirt Company based in Brooklyn.
Par-Ex made shirts par excellence for other brands, including Brooks Brothers. The new company was a success, and in 1927 the Par-Ex Shirt Company relocated to upscale New Haven, Connecticut.