It was a great pleasure to attend an international meeting in May as a preliminary to the main event in June when LOWA celebrated its 90th Anniversary.
The company was founded by Lorenz Wagner (LOWA) in Jetzendorf, Bavaria in 1923, a village where the family had lived for many years. Lorenz acquired much of his interest in footwear from his father Johann, a cobbler who was doing mostly shoe repairs. Lorenz determined that to make progress you had to make footwear not just wait for the repairs to come in.
There were three special guests at this inaugural celebration in Berchtesgaden, a beautiful and famous mountain town in Germany. Two were very long served employees and Mrs Berti Lederer (who will be 86 in January 2014) the daughter of Lorenz Wagner the founder of LOWA. She is the wife of the late Josep “Sepp” Lederer who himself with Berti took over running the company in 1955.
LOWA, like many 90 year old companies, have had the fair share of ups and downs what with The Depression, The Second World War not to mention normal economic cycles. Much of the company’s history was retold through the eyes of the three guests with much humour from the numerous anecdotes and recollections which were skilfully brought out by the facilitator and lost nothing in translation. Berti, the small vibrant looking lady in the photo exudes enormous charm and personality and more than a hint of determination which she undoubtedly used in some of the company’s critical times.
Sepp and Berti Lederer were succeeded by their son Stefan who ushered in Werner Riethmann in 1992 as CEO.
The changes that have taken place since then are nothing short of amazing. The factory was rebuilt in the charming village of Jetzendorf in 1996. It is immaculate. Where would you see a shoe making factory normally with rubber dust in the air and the smell of solvents and glues used in construction, certainly not at LOWA.
At LOWA you do not see employees wearing masks so good is the quality of the total environment both inside and out of the factory with the rubber dust being collected in small bags on the outside of the factory and recycled. Just adjacent to that point is a stream about 6 metres away which receives treated outflows from the factory. It is crystal clear and home to significant numbers of fish which all appear to be thriving.
The factory itself is something else. Footwear manufacturing is not the cleanest process but that is not obvious at LOWA, the floors are spotless to the point where as they say “you could eat your lunch off them”. Clearly after touring the factory and hearing that many employees are the third generation of former employees it is impossible to imagine that anything other than outstanding quality footwear could be made in such facilities and that environment.
Since 1992 there have been some important milestones with production exceeding 1 million pairs for the first time in 2000 and a decade later in 2010 more than 2 million pairs and today well over 2.3 million pairs, 95+% being made in Europe. LOWA is by far the largest manufacturer of high quality footwear in Europe and is one of the few if not the only one to have ISO 9001 certification.
A remarkable success founded on craftsmanship, a great culture and attention to details, for more read the timeline here