Made in Germany is a first-class seal of quality. Bernd Hummel and his small but fine Hummel&Hummel Schuhmanufaktur, which produces sneakers in real handwork, also count on this. In context of our GERMAN ISSUE, we visited the manufactory and took a look behind the scenes.
Dark, stuffy, the air heavy with solvents and people doing piecework on production lines. If that is what people imagine when they think of shoes being manufactured, they will be surprised when visiting Hummel&Hummel Manufaktur near Primasens in Münchweiler, Germany.
This facility is the exact opposite of anything people normally associate with the term “factory”: it is bright, filled with light, well ventilated, and has a friendly work atmosphere, with expert technical staff at each workstation.
German shoemaker Bernd Hummel owns the factory. In 2011, the boss of the Pirmasens-based Bernd Hummel Holding acquired the building with machinery and equipment as part of a company liquidation. He did this because he wanted to strengthen and preserve the region’s shoemaking tradition. “I’m a shoemaker through and through,” says Hummel. “By buying the factory, I saw an opportunity to continue the tradition of shoemaking here in our region. I believe in a future for production that is close to the market and founded on craftsmanship. In the future more and more consumers will want to know who is making products and under what conditions,” explains Hummel, who for over 40 years has earned his living with shoes and knows the shoemaking business inside out.
Born in the shoemaking center of Pirmasens, he has literally grown up surrounded by shoes. After Hummel started out as an apprentice in the shoe factory of his father-in-law and familiarized himself with the commercial and technical side, in 1972 he took over management of the company, which at that time was burdened with DM1.6 million of debt. After relocating production to eastern Europe, the company gradually recovered. Today Hummel Holding successfully markets the Kangaroos sneaker brand under a licensing agreement for 27 countries including Germany, Austria and Switzerland as well as the Flip*Flop brand. Production sites are primarily in Asia.
By purchasing the shoe factory, Bernd Hummel has made his dream of Made in Germany come true. “Made in Germany stands for special quality,” says Hummel. This is also officially confirmed by the first place ranking given to “Made in Germany” in a survey of 43,000 consumers in 52 countries carried out by the Statista statistics portal together with market research specialist Dalia Research. This quality seal stands for regional and sustainable production. And this is also a driving force behind the limited edition collaborations by Kangaroos such as the present one with the Kassel-based Sapato sneaker shop, for which the Münchweiler factory makes the shoes.
But other brands have also begun to notice Hummel&Hummel Manufaktur and have their shoes manufactured there, including Munich premium label Vor and Sonra, the sneaker label of Hikmet Sugoer. “It was important to me to produce in Germany. True, I could product much more cheaply elsewhere, but quality and proximity to the market are important to me,” explains Sugoer, who only has top-grade skins from Germany processed for his limited sneaker brand, which is also tanned here. Quality was also a reason for Vor to relocate production to Germany. “By taking the step to ‘Made in Germany’ not only was it important to be able to rely on the high level of quality associated with this move, but also to take a stance with regard to sustainability. Fair wages and work times, being able to answer the question, ‘Where does our leather come from?’ and what goes into the glue we use, etc. All these questions can be answered when working with a partner like Hummel&Hummel Manufaktur. We also pay a price for that, which is of course higher than it is in Asia, Italy or Portugal,” adds Andreas Klingseisen of Vor.
Hummel does not reveal what it costs to produce a pair of shoes. Nor is he willing to share what the wholesale prices are for customers. He will only say this much: “We manufacture the best sneakers based on a traditional artisan process. No robot, no 3D stuff. You can buy the shoes in stores for appropriate prices of between €250 and €380.”
Even if there are higher costs for making goods in Germany, the Hummel&Hummel factory is still not making a profit. “We were aware that it would be a long way until we reached the break-even point.” But that point should be attained next year. Currently, the 20 employees at the factory manufacture from 30 to 40 pairs of shoes a day. By 2018 annual production is set to reach 20,000 pairs. That should help make the company profitable by 2018. The prerequisite for healthy growth is a team that works well together, knows what it is doing and where every movement is perfectly synchronized. Ever since starting out with four staff members, Hummel&Hummel has invested a lot in training specialists and technicians, which are very hard to hire from outside the company. There are also four immigrants currently employed with the company.
About nine to 12 weeks go by from placement of the order and completion. This includes all service, from modeling to the actual production process through to packaging. Except for the soles–which are from Italy–everything is made in Germany. Depending on the style, manufacturing takes 100 to 110 minutes per shoe. This includes all working steps from cutting, gluing, punching, milling, sewing of the upper to the merging of the upper shoe with the sole. Even assembling the uppers for sneakers can be very painstaking, such as when things like logos are required. Sometimes the clean lines of premium styles can pose quite a challenge, too. “The devil can be in the details,” says Bernhard Ganter, head of production. It sometimes takes quite a bit of tinkering to find the best solution. Especially if the insole is stitched into the sole and not hand lasted. In the traditional method the leg is pulled down over the last and insole and fixed into place to create a single unit but the Strobel process involves stitching the insole to the leg. “Then, if the midsole and outsole have to be put into the shoe, things can get quite tricky,” says Ganter.
So far, the Münchweiler team has dealt with every challenge. That is not least due to the close ties they have with their customers and partners. Klingeisen swears by this too: “We have excellent relations with the head of the shoemaking company and his assistant, who is informed about everything right down to the most minor detail and gets in touch with us if something needs to be done to optimize the production process. We are notified early enough about any problems in the development and production process so that we can respond quickly and appropriately, depending on the circumstances.” Definitely a big advantage of “Made in Germany.”
Find out more about the stars and shapers of our GERMAN ISSUE in the brand new print magazine or check the digital magazine here.