Apparel manufacturer Farah, Incorporated, was founded in 1920 by Lebanese immigrants Mansour and Hana (Abihider) Farah. After studying shirt design and manufacturing in New York City, Farah returned to El Paso and set up operations in October 1920 in a tiny (1,250-square-foot) shop on San Francisco Street. The couple employed a handful of Mexican seamstresses and limited production to blue chambray work shirts sold under the Apache (Legion) label for thirty-five cents each. As business increased, the plant was moved in 1924 to South Oregon Street and again in 1930 to a 5,000-square-foot plant at 104 Leon Street. At that time the Farahs employed twelve to fifteen women on the stitching line. Two Farah sons also assisted with the business. During the 1930s Farah found himself in direct competition with the federal government when United States prison authorities began using convict labor to produce work shirts. From this point on adaptability became the key to his success. The plant was refitted for the production of blue denim work pants, and production reached sixty to eighty pairs daily. In 1935 matched khaki shirts and pants were added to the Farah line. Farah leased a section of a multilevel building at 208 San Francisco Street (the old Times building) in 1936; he expanded a few years later to fill the entire 65,000 square feet. He purchased the building in 1939 and remained at this location for the next fourteen years. On May 11, 1937, Farah died at the age of fifty-two. James Farah, then twenty-one, stepped into his father's role as head of Farah Manufacturing.
During World War II the company's production was converted from civilian garments to army khaki combat pants, fatigues, jungle wear, and uniforms. While William Farah served as a B-26 pilot in Europe, James remained in charge of the business, which now employed 140 workers. Hana Farah still supervised the sewing room. The plant production record of 359,000 consecutive pairs of pants without a rejection and five consecutive work weeks without an absence earned Farah the Army-Navy "E" flag, awarded on November 3, 1944. Farah was the first clothing plant west of the Mississippi to earn this award.
In 1953 a 116,000-square-foot single-level Farah plant was completed at East Third and Cotton streets. It produced 2,000 dozen pairs of pants daily. Half of the production was sold to J. C. Penney, Sears and Roebuck, and Montgomery Ward, and the other half was sold under the gold Farah label. By 1960 the company's entire production was marketed under its own label. James Farah died at work on January 30, 1964, and William Farah, then forty-five, succeeded him as president. In 1967 Farah Manufacturing made the transition from a family-owned business to a public corporation listed on the New York Stock Exchange. The company employed more than 7,000 workers, but emphasis remained on purchasing strictly United States-manufactured supplies, employing only United States citizens in a nonunion shop, and limiting the sale of Farah products to the United States. The Farah, Incorporated, of 1970 had seven domestic manufacturing facilities, five in El Paso and one each in San Antonio and Las Cruces, New Mexico. Combined, they comprised 1,837,000 square feet of manufacturing space and employed 9,500 workers. The company had also expanded to include operations in Belgium and Hong Kong. At this, its peak, Farah was the second largest employer in El Paso. Sales for 1971 were a record $164 million. Unique in the garment industry, Farah offered its workers on-site health care, cafeteria benefits, and a generous wage. However, the large capital expenditures required to meet growth necessitated strict control on production and increasing pressure on workers to meet higher quotas. As relations between management and workers grew less personal, union activists began to agitate for better working conditions. By 1974, 3,000 workers were on strike and a sixty-city boycott of Farah products was in effect (see FARAH STRIKE). A settlement was reached in 1977, but not before sales had dropped 40 percent, 5,000 employees had been laid off, and all domestic plants outside El Paso had been closed. Poor management decisions such as the opening in 1974 of a textile division in El Paso (closed in 1977) and major miscalculations in production and marketing also contributed to a $24.4-million operating loss in 1976. William Farah had been removed as president in March of that year, and William C. Leone assumed the position. Two others, William Conroy and Andrew Galef, held the office in the ensuing year.
Early in 1978 William Farah made his bid to regain control of the company. In April, amid bitter controversy, stockholders restored him to his former position, a move that stabilized operations for a time. In July company matriarch Hana Farah died at the age of eighty. The main Paisano Street plant (a 285,000-square-foot facility completed in 1963) was reopened, and by 1979 the annual reports showed a profit for the first time in three years. Farah added a line of women's wear in the early 1980s and acquired Generra Sportswear, an upscale brand of clothing, in August 1984. The renewed prosperity was short-lived, however. From 1985 to 1990 the company posted annual loses. Contributing factors were the shifting of consumer demand to jeans away from casual dress clothing and poor inventory controls. During 1987 and 1988, in an effort to regain a competitive edge, Farah purchased two manufacturing plants in Torreón, Coahuila. The main Farah plant at Gateway East was sold and leased back to the company, and Generra Sportswear was sold back to its founders. On July 11, 1989, William Farah retired as president and CEO of the company, which he had led for more than a quarter of a century. He was succeeded by Richard C. Allendar. Farah remained active as chairman of the board and also held a consulting contract with the firm. Fiscal 1989 ended with an $11.6 million loss, and by mid1990 William Farah again filed suit to gain control. However, on August 10, 1990, stockholders not only defeated his bid to oust six board members, including Allendar, but they also removed Farah as chairman of the board, thus denying him any further active role in company operations. In 1990 Farah, Incorporated, placed renewed emphasis on product quality. The company, which had led the way in fabric innovation in 1963 with polyester permanent-press slacks, developed an antiwrinkle garment finishing technique known as Process 2000, designed expressly for use with its 100 percent cotton line of casual men's wear. In 1994 Farah lines included Farah, Savane, and John Henry brands for men and Farah Savane for the Boys' and Kids' Division. Richard C. Allendar was chairman and CEO, and Mike Mitchell was president. Farah employed 3,000 workers in El Paso and 5,500 on a worldwide basis.