Hang it!

Did you know that if you pick up a clothes hanger anywhere in the world, there is a 12% chance that it was made in India? India is the third-largest exporter of hangers in the world, after China and Vietnam, sending out 11.1 thousand shipments a year, mainly to the US, Germany and Sweden.

There are of course several origin stories for the ubiquitous clothes hanger. The third US president Thomas Jefferson is supposed to have used some such device to keep his clothes in good order, but that story can’t be verified. Some versions take the invention back to 1869 and attribute it to one OA North, but some people believe it was invented by AJ Parkhouse in 1903. He arrived at work one morning to find all the coathooks taken. Irritated, he picked up a piece of wire lying there and bent it into the shape we all know today, and proceeded to hang up his coat.

Hangers are made from a variety of different materials–wire, wood, plastic, cardboard tubes, etc.  Now, in the quest for sustainability, the focus is shifting to use of recycled materials. Some hangers are padded with fabrics like satin and are used for delicate clothes. There are even luxury and custom-made hangers.

Fundamentally, a hanger is a device which mimics the shape of human shoulders, and is used to hang coats, shirts, dresses etc. so they don’t crush or wrinkle. A lower bar is used to hang pants or skirts. The other basic type of hanger has clamps to hold trousers or skirts.

Through the early 20th century, the popularity of the clothes-hanger grew—professionals like doctors and lawyers needed their clothes to look good, and hanging them up neatly was an easy way to always look dapper.

Hangers evolved to meet specific needs—there are foldable hangers for travel, scarf hangers, blanket hangers, tie hangers, etc.

Even more than domestic use is perhaps retail use, wherein the hanger has not only its functional use, but is also seen as an integral part of branding. The proper display of clothes depends a lot on the hanger used.

Mainetti is the world’s largest hanger manufacturer. The story of this giant began in Italy in the 1950s. A smart young man Romeo Mainetti worked for a racing car driver. The driver’s father was an industrialist involved in the textile industry, as the textile pioneer, the world-famous Marzotto corporation. The company had realized that there was an increasing demand for ready-made suits and started to make them. Each suit required a hanger. Originally, these were made of wood and were bulky and costly. Romeo’s brother Mario worked in a plastics factory, and together the two of them came out with the plastic hanger.

The quality of the product took the industry by storm and they soon had operations in the UK, France, Canada, and the Netherlands. Today the company has spread to 90 locations across 6 continents. India is a significant manufacturing hub.

Clothes hangers are used not just for hanging clothes, but have found innovative uses—they are popular welding rods, used for unclogging drains, for supporting plants, in children’s schools projects, etc. They are quite a favourite with car-thieves too! But hangers have a very dark side too– their use in illicit abortions.

Today, the major concern is from the angle of sustainability specially in terms of materials used. Hopefully we will find innovative ways to sustainably keep our clothes wrinkle-free.


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