Fashion Hall of Obscurity – ADEFA

ADEFA label from late 1930s coat

ADEFA label from late 1930s coat

Shortly after Germany’s new Nazi government held a boycott of Jewish businesses on April 1, 1933 (primarily to test the public and international reaction to state-sanctioned discrimination), Georg Riegel, a clothier in the Konfektion (ready-to-wear) industry, invited colleagues to establish an association of German clothing manufacturers. Within a year, the organization was registered as the Working Association of German-Aryan Manufacturers of the Clothing Industry, known by its German language acronym ‘ADEFA’. The approximate 200 founding member firms began placing ADEFA labels in their clothing to identify their association. This was part of the campaign to encourage the purchase of Aryan-made products and purge the German clothing industry of Jewish ownership, workmanship, or influence.

ADEFA publicized in 1937 that Jewish firms were still clothing 14 million Germans, so to speed the process of aryanizing the garment industry an additional organization was founded by many of the same members in January 1938. The Working Association of German Firms of the Weaving, Clothing, and Leather Trades, or ADEBE, was founded to further the cause in the textile and leather industries, as well as the retail and wholesale trades. The Ministry for the Economy temporarily banned this new organization on the grounds it would interfere with the economy, especially as German clothing exports were dropping, but Nazi ideology overrode economic interests and the ban was lifted.

By 1938, ADEFA had more than 600 member firms and was actively funding the buy out of existing Jewish businesses. Beginning 1 April 1938, members of ADEFA were forbidden any business dealings with Jews, as defined by the Nuremberg race laws of 1935, and were required to display signs in their shop windows that stated, ‘Ware aus arischer Hand’ (made by Aryan hands). This statement also appeared on the labels which were now required in every garment made by an ADEFA member.

After the ‘Ordinance on the Exclusion of Jews from German Economic Life,’ on November 12, all Jews were compelled to sell their enterprises. Magda Goebbels, wife of the minister of propaganda and well known fashionista, realized her favourite Jewish couturiers would have to close and was heard to say “Elegance will now disappear from Berlin along with the Jews.” On August 15, 1939, the director of ADEFA announced that the goal of aryanizing the German garment industry was complete and declared that the organization of ADEFA was now dissolved.

About Jonathan

Jonathan Walford is a fashion historian and co-founder of the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario. The FHM maintains a collection of nearly 12,000 artifacts dating from the mid 17th century to the present. Jonathan has authored various books and museum catalogues, including The Seductive Shoe, Shoes A-Z, Forties Fashion, 1950s American Fashion, and Sixties Fashion.
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4 Responses to Fashion Hall of Obscurity – ADEFA

  1. Lorraine says:

    I’ve driven through Cambrdge many times and have spent several hours walking around to see the sites. I had no idea that your Musem existed. Could you please let me know what your hours of operation are.

  2. Hello:

    My sister is visiting Germany and would like to visit the fashion museum that holds ADEFA clothes from the Nazi era. While watching the history channel, I missed the location and name of the museum in Germany. Can anyone provide me with this information? Thank you.

    • Jonathan says:

      There are probably many German museums that have ADEFA clothes in them and don’t even know it. All the examples I have seen and handled are completely unremarkable in style and finish — they are manufactured ready-to-wear for everyday women. We have one example in the collection, but examples come up for sale every once in a while on Etsy and eBay.

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