‘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 2 we pay a visit to our biggest factory, in Croatia.
Six hours’ drive by car from the HANWAG headquarters in Bavaria, Germany, we arrive in northern Croatia. The area around the town of Varaždin was once a footwear production powerhouse. Now, only a few of the footwear factories are left – but there are still many highly skilled shoemakers here. Roughly 250 of these work for Consors in the Donje Ladanje district. Consors has been making footwear for HANWAG since 1999 and in terms of sheer quantities, is its most important production site.
And Dubravka Pirović, known as ‘Duda’, has worked here almost from day one. “In our stitching department, we stitch the uppers for almost all HANWAG models,” explains the head of purchasing and logistics, as she shows us around the production facilities. Around 30 women sit in long rows, stitching leather, textile and lining materials together or gluing cushioning foam to the uppers. “For a HANWAG Tatra Light model, for instance, there are around 60 stages to complete in the stitching process alone,” explains Duda.
A further 40 stages are completed for the ‘base assembly’ that takes place in the gallery next door. Here, it’s mostly men we see, operating big machines. In simplified terms, the uppers are fitted with a sole in the assembly department and become a complete shoe. For virtually all HANWAG models, this is done using what’s known as the cemented construction method. (–> Find out more: Our construction)
Like all HANWAG boots and shoes, the Croatian-made models are then delivered to our central logistics hub in Ludwigslust in the north German state of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania). Donje Ladanje is also the biggest site for repairs. HANWAG shoes from all over Europe are resoled here and then returned to customers, mostly via local retailers.
Anka stands at a wooden workbench and glues foam elements into some uppers. “The foam has to sit perfectly, with millimetre precision,” she explains. A few moves later, it does just that. Anka carefully inspects the leather outer one last time – she wants to make sure none of the glue has strayed onto it.
A little later, we watch as the 53-year-old inserts fabric linings into uppers. “You have to be careful with lining, to make sure no creases develop and that the edges are equal,” says Anka. But her favourite lining is leather: “It feels so amazing in your hands.”
Anka has worked at Consors since 2008. “The working conditions have improved. Especially because there is less adhesive smell than there used to be.” The shoes have also evolved too, she says: “Linings fit better and better.”
When Anka makes shoes, she often wonders: “Where will they end up?” She enjoys hiking with her family. Not far from the factory, Ivanšćica mountain rises up 1,059 metres, with numerous vineyards reaching down its slopes. “Here, not many people can afford to buy good hiking boots. But if I do see someone wearing HANWAGs, I feel an immense sense of pride. I think to myself: “I made those.”
“It’s all about precision. If the lining isn’t fitted correctly, it affects the quality of the whole shoe.”
“HANWAG is the company I work for. But in actual fact, it feels more like a good partner.”
“All the best for the future!”
It might not look that heavy but inside each shoe that Tomislav assembles, there is a last that weighs two kilograms. The 37-year-old lifts one after the other from the shelf and carefully glues the rubber outsole onto the insole. The shoe is then cemented in a press to make absolutely sure the glue really sticks. When the machine releases the shoe, Tomislav checks the sole once more to make sure it’s fitted correctly. Around 350 pairs of shoes pass through Tomislav’s hands every day. It’s hard work.
“But I enjoy my work” he assures us. Tomislav’s father, Josip, also works here at the factory, as a production manager. “When I was 17, I came to see him here once and saw that it was good work.” So he started in the HANWAG assembly department straight after he left school. Whilst we only saw women at the sewing machines in the stitching department, assembly appears to be a man’s job.
His most important co-workers are the machines, Tomislav explains. Along with the large universal press, there is also a pneumatic bag sole press. It presses the shoe components together using air pressure and is used for the low-cut shoes. “Whichever press you use, the pressure has to be right,” says Tomislav. “And even machines have bad days sometimes. I have to be gentle with her. Especially after the holidays, sometimes she’s not in the mood. It always takes her a few days to get going.”
“Strength. The most taxing element is fitting the sole – pulling it across the upper and pressing it in place. You have to be really careful because it’s irreversible, you can’t fix any mistakes.”
“My future. Because I would like to continue working for HANWAG. My five-year-old son has also been to visit me in the factory and was amazed by the machines. Maybe he’ll be the third generation of our family to work here.”
“That sales are good, so we all have jobs.”
Find out more: ‘Made in Europe’ – what HANWAG bases its pledge on
Gordana has worked for Consors since 1996. She’s stitched footwear uppers for half of her life now and is regarded as the specialist for more tricky models like the HANWAG Alverstone. “The upper is made from a lot of different parts, and there are lots of seams,” explains Gordana. “Low cut shoes like the HANWAG Banks Low naturally require less stitching.”
According to Gordana, the footwear is more interesting than it used to be. “There are more colours, and there’s a bigger range of models.” Since 2016, Gordana has used a new sewing machine. Some of the stitching is automatic, which makes it easier. “The work environment is also getting better and better, because most of us have known each other for so long now.”
Gordana’s two children won’t be following in her footsteps, however. “They are studying at university and are heading in a completely different direction.” And how long does Gordana want to keep working for HANWAG? “Until I retire,” she says, smiling. In Croatia, women can retire after 41 years’ work. Though, there will be quite a few more shoes passing through Gordana’s hands before then.
“I have to be very precise. If by the end of the day, I feel I haven’t made any mistakes, then I’m really happy.”
“I’ve been here right from the start and have seen how the factory has grown. And so I feel really connected to my workplace and my work.”
“I wish for us all that things stay as good as they are at present. And perhaps that we grow to be even closer across all HANWAG sites in Europe.”
Just like Tomislav, Stanko also works in assembly. The qualified shoemaker is a master at all the processes that have to be carried out here, which is why he’s known as the ‘master of soles’. When we meet Stanko, he is preparing the insoles of various models before they have the rubber soles glued onto them – which Tomislav takes care of.
“I just jump in wherever I’m needed. I love the variety that it gives me,” says Stanko. He started at Consors in 1999, following four years’ apprenticeship at another footwear factory, and was therefore involved in HANWAG’s production from the very start. “There were 10,000 people working in the factory where I did my apprenticeship,” says Stanko. “But then, like so many of these footwear companies, it went bust. And I was really happy to get a job here.”
During his apprenticeship, Stanko made urban footwear. Now he’s making technical outdoor footwear. “The work involved in making HANWAG shoes is more interesting,” explains Stanko in good German (he once lived in Austria). “There are more stages to be mastered, and the build is much better.” Even at the age of 56, and after 22 years working here, Stanko wants above all: “To keep learning. Always keep learning.” And those who want to learn from him? Well, they just need to come and see the ‘master of soles’ at work.
“Quality is the most important part of it. I have to be precise, I have to be fast, and I have to do my job well.”
“HANWAG makes the best hiking boots.”
“Here, we say ‘At least the same again’. So, here’s to the next 100 years!”
Next stop on the ‘Made in Europe’ road trip: the HANWAG production site in Hungary