“WORK HARD. DREAM BIG”
FOUR GENERATIONS OF HARD WORK.
In the 21st century, few people working in the industry of designing and the manufacturing of clothing can deny the huge impact workwear has had on the fashion industry. Although it can trace its origins back a lot earlier, it was probably the California gold rush (in the late 19th century) that the term workwear became used as an expression for clothing framing an occupation, with gold diggers expressing the need for durable trousers.
Since then, there are countless items of clothing worn for work, especially work that involves manual labour, that have entered the fashion vernacular. Industrial, clothing such as denim jackets, military trench coats, lumberjack flannels, chambray and grandad collar shirts, raw denim and work boots have all become a byword for workwear style. Worn by hipsters and numerous subcultures, workwear has transcended simply being an identifiable uniform to become a culture and a way of life associated with community and solidarity.
Founded in 1948 by Engelbert Strauss, producing a wide range of brushes and brooms for local businesses, the eponymous, family-run business, based in Biebergemünd, Germany, is the leading European Brand for workwear and protective equipment. If you are looking for fit-for-purpose clothing that might cross over into popular clothing culture, Engelbert Strauss is probably the one to watch.
Selling everything from its own-branded workwear lines and protective footwear and equipment, along with everything from shirts and trousers to overalls and aprons, Engelbert Strauss has a proud history of providing best in class kit for every working environment.
Manufaktur catches up with director, Henning Strauss, grandson of the founder to discuss how it became a trend-setting market leader for work, safety and performance clothing.
Our idea of design goes far beyond work clothing – design development predominantly centre’s on intelligent, functional design. This is why having a partner such as KTC is really key.
TELL US ABOUT THE ORIGINS OF ENGELBERT STRAUSS?
We are an owner-operated family company spanning four generations, Engelbert was my grandfather. Originally it used to sell brooms and brushes, then in the 1970s my father decided to offer garments to his customers that they had started to request. Over the years, the business developed into a mail-order business. As a market leader in the field of workwear, we can change how entire industries are presented. Today, our range comprises of professional workwear, accessories and shoes as well as industrial safety. As a company we like to create cool workwear that you can wear to work and then after work too. But every piece still focuses on work and the ability to be used for a specific function.
WE LOVE YOUR MOTTO: ‘WORKWEAR THAT MOVES AND INSPIRES’. WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
Everyone should enjoy what they’re doing in life; their work and profession. We sell clothing systems that allow workers to develop their own personal look despite the consistent corporate image. By creating products that work well and that look good we hope people will feel good about themselves, regardless of what they doing. That has become part of our success. It sends out a strong message.
ENGELBERT STRAUSS HAS A VERY DIVERSE OFFER. IT SEEMS LIKE THERE’S SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE?
Today our assortment goes far beyond the common boiler suit and work shoes. Besides sophisticated in-house developments in the area of textiles, shoes and gloves, we offer our clientele accessory products for their daily requirements. We are constantly in the process of developing our solution concepts further in order to lend an active helping hand to the working world. For us, however, our idea of design goes far beyond work clothing – design development predominantly centre’s on intelligent, functional design. This is why having a partner such as KTC is really key.
There is something about the way they put products together that you can completely tell that it’s made by KTC.
Some of your garments look very sporty?
People are always asking us if we are becoming more of an outdoor brand now? And the answer is always no because all of the fits and fabrics are designed to be more robust than most workwear out there on the market. On the outside some of the garments might look like they are designed to be an outdoor garment, but on the inside it’s very much workwear.
Who do you make garments for?
Electricians, builders, construction companies, manufacturing companies - a really wide range of companies. We are very strong in agriculture and horticulture. Now we have become so well known, we get approached by much larger companies too, particularly since we have been advertising in football stadiums. We now have a whole team to serve these much larger companies. Of course we are big in the German speaking countries, but we are becoming well-know all over the world now too. The good thing about Engelbert Strauss is that we work directly with companies and don’t have to rely on a middle man. Otherwise we wouldn’t be able to offer the technology that goes into making our products at an acceptable price point.
Talking about technology, how did you get involved with KTC?
About 10 years ago, we started to look into adding more technical garments to our collections, such us waterproof and breathable pieces and adding technology to existing products in order to differentiate us from what our competitors were doing. A fabric supplier recommended that we took a look at what KTC was doing in this area.
When we started working with them KTC had never manufactured any workwear items such as ours in terms of price and production standard. They were more used to creating ski jackets and outerwear at much higher price points, but fortunately we found a way to move ahead. And it’s been quite successful ever since.
We were completely fascinated by the precision that KTC offered. There is something about the way they put products together that you can completely tell that it’s made by KTC.
THE BEST THING ABOUT WORKING WITH CHINA, IN PARTICULARLY KTC, IS THAT THEY ARE VERY EAGER TO MOVE THINGS ON AND CHANGE THINGS FOR THE BETTER.
DID YOU HAVE ANY SPECIFIC PIECES YOU NEEDED HELP WITH?
We had an idea for a very complicated pair of new trousers with many pockets, many layers and lots of small intricate details. It was the sort of product that would need a lot of production experience to make it happen. A normal uniform manufacturer would not be in the position to create this item. Fortunately, KTC was. As a factory, KTC is interested in problem solving and working collaboratively to get to that solution.
DID YOU WORK WITH KTC ON YOUR ICONIC FORESTRY CUT PROTECTION TROUSERS? IT MUST TAKE A LOT OF TECHNOLOGY TO PROTECT LEGS AGAINST INJURIES DURING WORK WITH A CHAINSAW?
Yes, we came up with the idea and KTC helped us to implement it. They have been producing it for us as it is a specialist type of product that few other factories would have the skills to produce. The way the protective liner is arranged over multiple layers helped us achieve a higher level of protection for the user than previous products were able to. Their input was vital.
HOW DO THE TROUSERS WORK?
The trousers protect at a chain speed of up to 20 meters a second. A multilayer structure of loosely weaved, very long and fine, tear-resistant threads have been incorporated into them. As soon as the chain of the chainsaw cuts the outer material, it gathers the threads of the cut protection insert. These wrap around the drive wheel of the chainsaw and jam it.
HOW DOES YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH KTC WORK?
Part of the success of the relationship (beyond the technology they can offer us) is that the teams work so well together. They have a saying at KTC that: “Business is People”. Well, they are true to their word on this point. We are a family business and they are part of our family – their culture, ethics and values are very similar to ours. We feel that they’re an integral part of our business - we have grown together over the years.
HOW IMPORTANT ARE THE LEVELS OF CRAFTSMANSHIP THAT KTC CAN OFFER YOU?
Really important. It helps us to differentiate our products in a crowded market. For the items we make with them we try to focus on the items that are more challenging to produce, more difficult, more complex. They can create unique products for us to give us the edge on competitors.
And because of the levels of staff retention, they can deliver the consistency that is so important for a business like ours. It is crucial for workwear. It is also really important for our clients who are making repeat purchases.
FOR MANY YEARS ‘MADE IN CHINA’ HAS HAD A NEGATIVE PERCEPTION IN THE WEST? WE BELIEVE THAT ACTIVITY SPECIFIC APPAREL MADE IN CHINA IS THE BEST IN THE WORLD? WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THIS IN RELATION TO KTC?
Made in China is more often than not a good thing. It’s where you go to make more technical garments. The factories in China are bigger, more efficient, more professional. They invest in new factories and new technology in a way that you don’t see in Europe anymore, with a quality that is often so much better too. You are buying decades their expertise. The best thing about working with China, in particularly KTC, is that they are very eager to move things on and change things for the better. It embraces innovation and positive change with open arms.