Martin Greenfield knows a thing or two about suits. He’s been making them for over half a century at his shop in the East Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn.
During that time, Greenfield has measured and tailored suits for generals, members of Congress, Hollywood celebrities, and even U.S. presidents. His customers include Dwight Eisenhower, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump.
But Greenfield did not arrive at his career in a usual way. He didn’t dream of growing up to sew clothes, or learn the business as an apprentice. Instead, Greenfield’s first encounter with a needle and thread happened when he was a prisoner at the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1944. He was 15 years old.
“While washing and scrubbing one of the Nazi’s uniforms, I ripped the collar of the shirt. The guard became angry and beat me with his baton. A nice man working in the laundry taught me how to sew a simple stitch,” says Greenfield.
The kapo having no more use for the shirt, Greenfield kept the shirt for himself.
“I eventually took the shirt and wore it all through the concentration camp, until I got to another camp (Buchenwald) and they made me take it off.”
For Greenfield, the shirt had much value.
“The day I first wore the shirt was the day I learned clothes possess power. Clothes don’t just ‘make the man,’ they can save the man. The kapos treated me a little better. Even some of the prisoners did the same. Wearing the shirt, the kapos didn't mess with me and they thought I was somebody."
Greenfield’s parents and siblings were also at the concentration camp. The family was forced by the Nazis to leave their small hometown of Pavlovo, Czechoslovakia. Once at the camp, Greenfield never saw his family again. His father, mother, sisters, brother, and grandparents were killed. His life was spared.
“My father said no matter what job they give you, you do it and you will always survive. And I did survive,” he says.
After World War II, Greenfield immigrated to the United States.
He landed a job at GGG Clothing Company as a “floor boy” – someone who ran errands and did odd jobs. But he worked his way up, and in 1977 he bought the company and give it his name: Martin Greenfield Clothiers.
Greenfield is 89 years old now. His two sons, Jay and Tod, along with more than 100 other people, work at his company. But Greenfield still comes to the shop every day and walks the floor, managing workflow production and paying close attention to detail. When asked about his success, Greenfield gives credit to the talent and hard work of his employees. He also notes the importance of a satisfied customer.
“When I deliver a suit and they put it on and say, ‘My God, this is beautiful’, they know it is the quality we produce,” he says. “We satisfy our customers so they could come back again because we have the best suits ever!”