‘Made in Europe’ road trip – check out the stops:
–> Visiting the headquarters in Bavaria
–> Our biggest footwear factory, Croatia
–> A day in the life of the HANWAG factory in Hungary
–> Traditional footwear craftsmanship in Swabia
–> A footwear dynasty in Bosnia
HANWAG manufactures exclusively in Europe. But what does that actually mean? And more specifically: who are the people whose skills and craftsmanship are behind our high-quality footwear?
In this series, we invite you to join us on a road trip through five HANWAG production facilities in four different European countries. You’ll find out how our boots and shoes are made. And you’ll meet four fascinating people who make them too. In episode one we pay a visit to headquarters near Munich in Bavaria, Germany.
Vierkirchen is about half an hour’s drive north of Munich. This is where Hans Wagner founded his shoemaking business in 1921. And the small town with some 4,500 inhabitants is where the German boot manufacturer HANWAG has kept its headquarters to this day.
Everything is under one roof (and two floors) – from management, and sales and distribution to product development, marketing and accounts. The steady flow of supply vans is a tell-tale sign that this is also a manufacturing site.
“Vierkirchen is where we make our most technical alpine boots, the HANWAG Omega and HANWAG Zentauri,” explains Head of Production & Purchasing, Stefan Jerg, as he takes us on a factory tour. “And from start to finish – this means that the uppers are stitched and the soles are cemented here. In addition, nearly all the materials that are processed at other HANWAG product sites undergo a quality inspection here first.
In addition to the huge mountains of German leather, there are piles of assorted cardboard boxes with soles from Italy and sacks of lacing eyelets from Austria… There are palettes ready to be shipped to Croatia, Hungary and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania in north-eastern Germany. “We don’t just manufacture exclusively in Europe. The materials we use are nearly all from Europe too,” explains Stefan Jerg.
HANWAG has some 40 employees in Vierkirchen, around a half of them work in manufacturing. Four of them introduce themselves here.
Mario greets everyone with a loud, friendly, Bavarian greeting: “Servus!” This applies to all visitors to HANWAG. Or to employees from other departments who pop into the warehouse.
“It’s really important that we keep our spirits up and get along well with each other,” says the 40-year-old father of two children. “I’m the storeman, so I visit different departments all over the factory. And I always talk to the people I meet. After all, we’re all on the same team and have to pull together.”
You can’t help but smile at Mario’s good spirits and happy mood. And when he sets up tables and benches in the warehouse and organizes lunch for everyone, then he has plenty of visitors. Tuesdays are pizza day, Thursdays it’s doner kebab. And if a department is short of personnel, Mario is always on hand to help out. Currently, he comes into work an hour early to help out in manufacturing. He’s more than just a trained and skilled forklift driver, he also knows how to fit and glue soles.
In 2001, Mario came to Germany from Bosnia. He has worked full-time in the company since 2011. “Once you start at HANWAG, you won’t want to work anywhere else,” he says. “My colleagues work well together and support each other – there are so many nice people – it’s great here.”
But now Mario has another visitor. The postman is here: “Servus! How’s it going?”
“Keeping your spirits up and not letting the stress get to you. People are always coming into the warehouse and wanting something from me. At the same time I need to watch what I’m doing. Especially when I’m driving the forklift truck. This requires real concentration.”
“HANWAG is like family to me. I feel proud when people wear our boots and say ‘that’s quality’.”
“I wish for us all that future generations like my children also appreciate such good footwear. So that HANWAG can go on forever.”
Find out more: ‘Made in Europe’ – what HANWAG bases its pledge on
Maria is 57 years old. She learnt her shoemaking skills from her father as a girl. He had a workshop in southern Italy, “making beautiful gentlemen’s shoes.”
Maria moved to Germany and, at the age of 50, finally followed in her father’s footsteps. After her three children had grown up, she looked for a job near the small town of Petershausen, where she lived. HANWAG is situated only seven kilometres away – and as she says, she “found a second family”. When my husband died, people were really kind to me. There are a lot of good people who work here. I wake up every morning and enjoy going to work.”
Maria’s special friend is her 50-year-old sewing machine. It’s decorated with a photo of Saint Pius of Pietrelcina, an Italian priest, and a Ferrari sticker: “She’s just perfect,” says Maria. Maria sews the samples on her ‘Ferrari’ – the prototypes need to be 100% perfect,” she explains energetically. “Even if they are ultimately not used, ‘Boots are still boots!’”
It’s quiet in the stitching department today. There’s just one other colleague, a Turkish woman. “We all get on really well,” says Maria. They are stitching finished uppers for HANWAG Omegas and HANWAG Zentauris. Maria says she once showed her father some pictures of the Omega. “Aye, such enormous shoes – mountain boots!”, he cried. Both were very proud that Maria was following in her father’s traditional handcrafting footsteps.
“When I work on my old sewing machine. I know how she works. The new machines are not as good. Sometimes they don’t cooperate. And then I don’t know what to do. They are just so complicated.”
“My home and my family. I’m happy when I’m at HANWAG.”
“For me personally, my wish would be to only sew samples and prototypes. The work is so varied. I want to keep learning and try out new things.”
Naji is Kurdish and originally comes from northern Iraq. His colleagues in the shoemaking department are from Turkey, Nigeria, Bosnia and many other countries. “German is the common language”, says the 48-year-old “and we get on well together. The people here are great!”
Naji came to Germany in 2007 and started at HANWAG in 2011. When we talk to him, he’s busy brushing glue onto soles to cement them to boots later. “I do everything” says the father of five. “Glueing, sanding, cleaning, pressing – my favourite job is pressing.” He puts his extensive experience to good use and helps train up younger colleagues, such as a new employee from Bulgaria.
The highpoint of the year for him is the company Christmas party when all the employees get together. And what about when Mario is serving up pizza or doner kebabs in the warehouse? “I’m always there!”, he says.
“You have to work accurately and you have to work quickly. If we need to move fast, I can press around ten pairs of boots in seven minutes.”
“My company. I earn the money I need for my five children here.”
“Everything should continue the same as it is for the next 100 years.”
Steven can still remember his interview at HANWAG a few months ago. “I was a bit nervous, as my German is not very good,” he tells us in English. “But everybody was very friendly. The lady offered me a cup of coffee.” Then she showed him the shoe manufacturing tasks that were required and asked if he could see himself doing them. “I said, yes – definitely. I want to work to provide for my family.”
Steven came to Germany from Nigeria in 2017. His German-Greek girlfriend works in a hospital. They have a three-year-old son together and live in Vierkirchen. “It’s ideal that I can walk to work,” says the 28-year-old. “It means I can start at six o’clock in the morning and still have time for my family after work.”
Steven says he wants to always make the best of things. For his son, here in Germany, and also for his family in Nigeria, who Steven sends money to. “My mother was very happy and very proud when she heard of my job here,” he says. Steven has not seen his mother for over five years. He wants to finally go back to see her on his next holiday.
“Focus. When I fit the rubber to the boots, then I have to work carefully and concentrate. This is not always easy. But I want to learn more.”
“These are not regular boots, they are high quality. They are made by hand and are real quality.”
“I hope that HANWAG always sells lots of boots. Because I work here with lots of nice people, who are paying off their mortgage like me and feeding their families.”
Our ‘Made in Europe’ road trip rolls on. Next stop: the shoemakers in Croatia