“I regard myself as a simple merchant… one who loves the action of this industry, and the people I meet. I'm a lucky man.” Milton Kahn
Milton Kahn once said he “was almost born on a cutting table,” so close was his family's association with the apparel industry. His father was a tailor, and as an early organizer of the Cloakmakers Union in Toronto, helped make the union a strong advocate of workers' rights.
Milton was twenty years old when he followed his father's footsteps into the apparel industry, representing firms that manufactured or imported buttons, millinery, ribbons and other trimmings that are an essential part of apparel. In this role and a subsequent position at a sewing machine company, Milton became an excellent salesman. He knew his products, he understood the industry, and, most importantly, he knew and cared about his customers' needs. Milton provided his customers not only with quality merchandise but also with information about the nature and direction of the burgeoning “needle trade.”
This knowledge, experience, and philosophy would serve him well in the early days of Reliable Sewing Machine, which he founded in 1955. In the early days, Reliable sold used machines. The firm was far from glamorous, operating from a rented garage. But Milton's readiness to accommodate customer needs and his comprehensive knowledge of the apparel manufacturing industry brought him the respect of his peers, great credibility in the industry, and a substantial measure of success. By 1966, Reliable had expanded to a 2,000-foot facility and was selling several coveted lines of sewing machines, often being the first to bring a new machine to market.
Milton never hesitated to help others. His children remember that even when he was critically ill in 1991, he was trying to help people find jobs and lending a sympathetic ear to people in need. “No one was a stranger to him,” his wife Ann observed. He was a man full of kindness, humour and warmth. He was a real mensch.
Milton Kahn died in 1991. The firm he founded lives on, with Milton's son Robert now at the helm.