Longtime Garment District executive Joel Goldfarb died May 12 at Valley Hospital in Ridgewood, N.J.
The 90-year-old Goldfarb died of natural causes surrounded by his family, according to his son Marc.
After briefly retiring in 2000, the elder Goldfarb returned to the fashion industry as vice president of sales and creative director at La Lame Inc. Undeterred by the commute from his West New York, N.J., home that required a ferry crossing and a bus ride, he remained there well into his late 80s until the start of the pandemic in March 2020. Goldfarb had been residing in an assisted living facility in Paramus, N.J., prior to his death.
Born in 1931 in Brooklyn during the Great Depression, Goldfarb’s Poland-born father sold linens from his car and his homemaker mother helped run the business. After studying economics and graduating from Brooklyn College, Goldfarb embarked on his fashion career in the early 1960s and rose through the ranks at M. Lowenstein Corp., the manufacturer of the Wamsutta brand. He spent 17 years with Wamsutta Mills and exited as New York sales manager.
Goldfarb married and divorced twice.
In 1970, Goldfarb joined Soptra Fabrics Corp. as vice president of sales, which was a new post at the company at that time. In the 1970s, he went on to start his own company, Goldmark Fabrics. Steve Levine, founder of the 30-year-old company Rag Race Inc. that now specializes in sourcing for the active and surf sectors, recalled Wednesday how he met Goldfarb in the summer of 1970, when his father, who also worked at Soptra, got him a summer job cutting swatches, delivering packages and helping the salesmen carry their bags and various other tasks. In 1971, Goldfarb phoned Levine’s father to see if his son could join him at Goldmark.
“I was just about to start college at FIT, so I switched to night school and worked for Joel. I was his first employee, when he started Goldmark Fabrics. It was based in the city at 470 Seventh Avenue. We specialized in prints — and knitted prints,” Levine said.
The company, which developed into a $5 million to $10 million business in about six or seven years, provided fabrics to the designer Betsey Johnson in her early days. Having run into Johnson in Cabo last year, Levine said they reminisced about that time 50 years ago and Goldfarb’s exceptional sales skills.
“He was relentless and he always did it with a smile. He was very accommodating and would give the personal touch,” Levine said. “Even though he might have been the ultimate garmento, as we say in our world, he just did it with class. Unfortunately, the word garmento doesn’t always have the word ‘class’ attached to it. But he was a classy guy, very suave and good looking. Women adored him. He just had a very nice way about him.”
After the business turned and wasn’t able to survive, Levine took a job with a corporate company utilizing all of the skills that Goldfarb instilled in him. “He taught me 50 percent of what I know today as far as sales are concerned,” said Levine, citing such advice as “‘If you can’t get in the front door, go in the back door’ and ‘Just don’t take no for an answer — keep calling’ [laughing] in the day, when people called people.”
Goldfarb eventually moved on to work for Actionwear Fabrics, and helped start the children’s brands Lovenotes and Fraise. Known to have a flair for prints and for color, that strength endured throughout Goldfarb’s career, Levine said. “He was just a hardworking, honest guy who you could always count on,” Levine said. “He was a family man. I became close to Marc because of Joel, and I always loved his relationship with Marc. Joel was very inspiring.”
As for why Goldfarb decided to get back into the industry with La Lame, he missed “the action of the garment center,” according to his son Marc.
In addition to his son, Goldfarb is survived by a sister, Barbara Zwiebel, as well as another son, Zachary, and two daughters, Lori and Jennie.