Tailwind for German fashion
Since 2003, Annette Roeckl has been leading the traditional German family business Roeckl. She has successively developed the glove brand from Münich into an accessories label. Roeckl has also recently become a member of the Fashion Council Germany. A conversation about the balancing act between tradition and modernity, women in leading positions and the status quo of German fashion.
Mrs. Roeckl. They say that you, of all people, didn’t wear gloves as a teenager in principle. Why?
The way it is with young people: For me it was very important to distance myself from the family business at first and to find my own standpoint. In the meantime I developed my own access: I see gloves as a great craft product with an exciting tradition – and on top of that they have a great significance in the worldly as well as in the church history. Next to the eyes, the hand has a special significance in communicative expression.
Today, you won’t even go out for an espresso at the Roecklplatz – the restaurant named after your family – without wearing gloves.
Never! These days, depending on the shape of the day I wear red, pink, lined gloves or a light model in the summer. In addition to that a cloth or a bag – by now we have built up a whole product world of accessories.
Since 2003 you have managed the family business in the 6th generation. This year Roeckl celebrates its 180th anniversary. How do you manage the balancing act between the tradition and the future?
This is exactly the challenge. Our credo is to transfer what is valuable, good and authentic, what is anchored in the core of the brand, into the future. For this we must ask ourselves again and again the questions: What is actually worth preserving? What is our red thread? For us this clearly means maintaining high quality and customer satisfaction. That is also a clear commitment to our employees and partners. In the past, Roeckl was supplier to the Royal Bavarian Court, Empress Sissi also wore our gloves. Such a thing cannot be achieved without high standards.
Speaking of Sissi: Who wears Roeckl products today?
The same customers who also treat themselves to Roeckl bags and scarves – to whom durability is important and who let our employees explain the products to them in peace so that they can go home with a favorite piece. At Roeckl the price-performance ratio is high. Our products look like new even after 10 or even 20 years. They outlast several generations.
How can this still be ensured?
The preservation of traditional craftmanship is a task that currently occupies many brands. In addition to our glove manufacture, we opened our own bag manufacture in 2010, excellent craftsmen work in our production facilities in Romania.
Today, transparent production is something the customer also asks for.
The customer themself today also has a completely different awareness, also with regard to the regionality of the product. This is one of the reasons we now train in Germany. Know-how is the key. To further strengthen the product competence, we are currently revising our entire workshop concept in Münich.
A step towards modernization.
Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the passing on of embers – when I took over the management in 2003, this was my key sentence. It is very important not to sink into rigidity. Ofcourse, the world ticks quite differently today. Therefore, we also heavily rely on digitization, in communication as well as in corporate structures.
Did you have a harder time as a woman at the top of the company at the beginning?
Interestingly enough, I did not get any problems reflected from the internal view of the employees, but from external business partners. Why is there a woman standing there, and so young at that? There were many unspoken but clear question marks, for example from the bankers or the insurance brokers. I tried to ignore that, but in the beginning I was more often unsure myself. Unfortunately we still live in a patriarchal society, the heritage is in each of us. This also does something to the self-image of a woman.
How did you overcome the uncertainty?
Sovereignty comes with experience. The important thing is to believe in yourself. At some point, gender is no longer an issue. What counts is personality and the ability to take responsibility.
Would you say that as a woman you have different style of leadership?
I think so. Probably I’ll act a little more cooperative and collaborative.
Apart from you, how does it actually look like at Roeckl with women in management positions?
We are at the forefront of this, 80-90 percent of management positions are held by women, both in the boutiques and in the management of our factories. The head office has become more feminine in recent years. Traditionally there are more women that work in the retail trade and in fashion in general, they are simply efficient. We will gladly continue the road to success.
And I actully enjoy working with women in leadership. In general, I consider diverse teams of young and old, longstanding and new employees as well as men and women to be the ideal.
In 2017, Roeckl had a serious crisis – fortunately, the company was able to avert its own insolvency.
We withdrew the application for insolvency in selfadministration at that time, as we very quickly developed a solution within the family. The unity is certainly stronger in a family business than in a large holding company.
The warm winters were also to blame. In the past, you could tell the turnover by the weathercurve. And today?
Although we position ourselves as an accessories brand, the focus is still on our origin, the glove. A cold winter can be a revenue-generating season. Russia is an important market where we put in a lot of effort.
Do you currently focus more strongly on international business in general?
After we had to close some stores during the crisis, we can and want to expand again in the DACH region. Here we are still the market leader.
As a traditional German company, how do you actually view Germany as a fashion nation?
Germany stands primaly for industry and technology, precision and engineering – and not for fashion. Nevertheless there is a power in fashion design that has not been illuminated enough for a long time. We have outstandingly creative people and hidden talents in fashion.
That captures it pretty well. The Fashion Council Germany has set itself the task of increasing the visibility of fashion made it Germany and promoting young talent. Roeckl has also recently become a member of the Fashion Council.
I think it is an institution worthy of support because it helps to make German fashion more heard, and to give a better platform and increased awareness – which it deserves. There are outstanding collections that nobody sees. Networking is becoming more important than ever. If we can join forces, the incredible fashion power will take Germany further forward. It can be seen in countries like Italy and France where fashion chambers already have a long tradition. The tailwind for German fashion is a great opportunity. I am looking forward to it.