The Status Of German Fashion

While Germany Might Be Known For Cars, Beer, Football (Soccer) And Technology, It Is Not Exactly Known For Fashion. A Look At How To Solve German Fashion’s Image Problem.

By Dao Tran

Fashion Council Germany (FCG) recently presented “The Status of German Fashion,” a first-of-its-kind study on the state of German fashion commissioned by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi). As Marie-Louise Berg, Founder of Berg Communications Berlin, explained,

Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel herself asked Fashion Council Germany for more facts and to analyse the status, positioning and economic power of the German fashion industry. With the results of the study, we now have the proof that the German fashion industry has impressive economic power.

– Marie-Louise Berg

The study yielded that in the EU, Germany is the second largest producer of clothing and textiles (behind Italy) and the largest manufacturer of machinery for textile, clothing and leather production. It is the largest consumer market for clothing and footwear in the EU since Brexit with the departure of the UK, and sixth in the world (after the US, China, India, Japan). Worldwide, Germany is the third largest exporter of textiles (trailing India and China), fourth largest exporter of footwear, and fifth largest exporter of clothing. In a European comparison of 175 of the largest fashion brands, Germany places second in terms of total sales revenue (following France) and number of companies on the list (following Italy). The German fashion industry contributes to the employment of 1.3 million people and €66 billion to the GDP.

Claudia Hofmann, FCG Executive Board Member concludes: “The textile and clothing industry is one of Germany’s most important consumer goods industries.” Yet, why is German fashion so undervalued and underrecognized, not only in the world at large, but also within Germany itself? Honestly, the general public might be able to come up with one German brand when pressed – that is, if they even realize that adidas is German. I didn’t find out the founders of adidas and Puma were brothers until I moved here. Hofmann continues, “We need to highlight and promote our German fashion design much more, nationally and internationally.”

One way to do that is to work on brand-building and communication, according to Donald Schneider, godfather of collaborations. This is central to success, yet poorly understood and sorely underfunded in Germany. 

Donald Schneider believes that investing in the brand, innovative cooperation and collaborations with other brands, creatives or influencers, and engaging social media and community-building events yields a great return on investment. Furthermore, his Rule #1 is that the client should always remain young, not age with us.

It’s not about our own taste, but growing new clients in the younger generation. Bogner should look to Moncler or Tommy Hilfiger for how to stay relevant. His motto is do not wait for change, but make it. 

The other way to effect change is through politics. Christian Ehler, Member of the European Parliament, recognizes that, “The fashion industry is an enormous economic factor. Therefore, the need to set economic and other positive framework conditions for the fashion industry must be taken seriously.” Consider the soft diplomacy that South Korea has been practicing in exporting K-pop, and its huge success in raising their cultural image worldwide. Ehler (who was wearing a pinstripe Armani suit on the Zoom conference) suspectsthat Germans have a poor self-image and low self-confidence in terms of fashion, and that German politics is a dead zone for fashion because of a Protestant attitude that views it as frivolous. Just look at Joe Biden’s inauguration to see how effectively Americans use fashion to telescope their image and brand. 

Tina Lutz | Founder Lutz & Patmos

When functional design outweighs creativity and the middle market price point is a large driver of demand, it’s no wonder that German fashion suffers from a low profile. Add to that a creative exodus, with top talent choosing to study at more prestigious schools abroad and trying to make a name for themselves in the fashion capitals of the world. Quick, name a German designer! (Was it Karl Lagerfeld? Exactly.) More has to be done to improve and promote German fashion schools as well as foster opportunities and careers inland. It can be an attractive proposition, as evidenced by Tina Lutz, who studied in Paris and worked there with Issey Miyake, then Calvin Klein in New York before founding her own successful luxury knitwear company Lutz & Patmos, and has now organically found her way back to Berlin and a new line of artisanal and sustainable luxury handbags under the label Lutz Morris. 

Sustainability is an area in which the German fashion industry can shine. Eva Kruse, founder of the Global Fashion Agenda and Copenhagen Fashion Summit, believes that Germany has a natural advantage in this sector because of its holistic approach and advances in material science. Environmental consciousness is rather the assumption than the exception here, and “Made in Germany” does stand for quality, reliability and value. Germany is in the forefront of technology and innovation, e.g. with “smart” textiles that can sense and react to the environment, which will probably become increasingly important in the medium future. During Fashion Week, Berlin also hosts Neonyt, a fashion trade show and conference which shares all the learnings and knowledge on sustainability, digitalization and technology. 

Tristan Horx of the Future Institute predicts that 

The Industrial Age is transitioning to a Digital/Creative Age which requires social intelligence. He anticipates a second spring, like the Renaissance after the plague, in which the mantra for new growth will be quality instead of quantity, and there is an opportunity for real innovation which is also sustainable.

While Bernd Weismann, head of the Initiative for Cultural and Creative Industries at the BMWi, acknowledged that the cultural and creative branches did take a hit in the corona crisis, he is confident that there is great potential in exactly those sectors. I think of the roaring 20s after the Spanish flu of 1918-19 and am excited for our neo 20s, when we come out the other side of this pandemic.