22 Jun | TRUST IS GOOD, CONTROL IS BETTER
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Interview with Gerd Oliver Seidensticker, Managing Partner of the Seidensticker group.
Seidensticker is one of the most famous shirt brands in Germany and member of the Bremen Cotton Exchange. The family-owned company from Bielefeld has stood for high quality shirts and blouses for more than 100 years. Managing Partner Gerd Oliver Seidensticker leads the group of companies together with his cousin Frank Seidensticker in the third generation. In an interview with the Bremen Cotton Report editors, he talks about the importance of sustainability in corporate development, lessons from the corona crisis and of course about cotton – the most important raw material for shirts.
Let’s start with the quality. We have rarely compromised on this issue in our history. This means that the customer always gets a top product experience, both in terms of fit and physical quality. In addition, Seidensticker was one of the first brands to actively use brand advertising as early as the 1950s. I call it the chocolate box around it: you have to advertise the product. All in all, this has led to a high level of awareness and desirability of the brand. The third argument, especially for consumers, is probably the ability to change fashionably.
Yes, for Germany and its neighbours, quality shirts are still made of cotton. There is a bit of stretch here and there, but very little high-tech. Which I do not find at all objectionable, because the wearing properties of cotton are extremely comfortable. I like the feel, its properties, and the feeling of having something natural on my skin. In this respect, we are following the preferences of the customer. It is also important to consider the required staple length and yarn quality. Unfortunately, the connoisseurship in cotton quality has decreased. The customer is sometimes confused because he thinks he can get this quality at lower prices. We have clearly defined technical requirements for staple length and yarn quality.
In my opinion, sustainability has changed from a so-called “hygiene factor” to a “sine qua non” condition – without it, nothing is possible anymore. We are pleased about this, because in 2007 we decided, against the trend, to set up our own production again. In this way, we can master the demands that come from the end user and the systems, as well as from the lawmakers.
We welcome the Supply Chain Act insofar as the legislation now creates the framework and the necessary regulations. I take a critical view of the national reach, which could lead to distortion. Large, vertically organised companies that do not come from Germany thus receive a competitive advantage over local companies – because sustainability does not come free. However, I see Seidensticker one step ahead in terms of development because our previous investments will become an obligation.
I can honestly say that for us, creating transparency comes from intrinsic motivation. Firstly, we have invested in our own operations. The Seidensticker brand comes largely from our own production. Then we use our own software system to document and control our sustainability standards. As for the depth: Practically 100 percent of the directly commissioned suppliers are independently audited or certified at the tier 1 level. We also know almost 100 percent of our tier 2 suppliers, i.e., the weavers. At the fabric manufacturing level, around 70 percent of suppliers also have external audits or certificates, and the trend is rising. It is more difficult for us as a medium-sized company to control the lower levels of the value chain, for example yarn production or cotton cultivation. But we are also striving for a 100% overview of these levels.
We buy the cotton depending on the country we are producing for. This is often US or Chinese cotton, for which we ensure the origin based on the invoices. We also use cotton from all the major growing regions. In addition, we use certified cotton, some of which is organic, and are a member of the Better Cotton Initiative.
After the first shock, we did what we always do (at other times maybe a little slower): embrace the new and the unexpected. Working with a lot of uncertainty on many fronts posed a positive challenge. But you must also be able to deal with it. It was a great experience how our people went along with it and forces of reform took the initiative.
Specifically in terms of our processes, this meant: Our time-to-market had to be accelerated, simply because temporarily there will be a lot of goods in the market, but also to be even closer to the end consumer. Here we were able to use digital tools and video conferences to initiate processes that save up to four weeks in production. Corona is also accelerating the fashion trend that people are less and less willing to dress up for work. I call this the “New Office Look”. We must adapt to this trend, which is why we have significantly increased the proportion of knitwear in our collections.
The first one is of course difficult to meet: price stability. But I also believe that the subject of organic cotton is becoming more important. There will be increasing problems with the demands – despite the prices, which are difficult to transport to the end user. You probably know the price of high-quality organic cotton best yourself. It would be a shame if this were only dealt with in terms of the price of an increasingly scarce commodity. We too are still hesitant about the amount of organic cotton because the price is too high. I am convinced that the topic is not a short-term trend/hype but will continue. All that remains is the hope of an “economy of scale” that also affects the price.