The clothing firm that defies ‘fast fashion’: Trigema

  • Owned and run by CEO Wolfgang Grupp for more than 50 years, the German textile firm prides itself on its strong support for the local community.
  • Unlike the majority of the textile industry, Trigema makes all of its clothes on site and only imports cotton, so it can have full control over every aspect of the manufacturing process.
  • As well as embracing organic cotton and circularity in its products, the company looks after its ‘Trigema Family’ of staff with fair wages, sponsored learning and guaranteed opportunities for their children.
  • Grupp sees sustainability as a logical way of distinguishing his brand from the competition and uses personal responsibility as a key part of his management approach.

The textile industry has been mired in controversy over the years with its connections to slave labour, overseas sweatshops and a ‘fast fashion’ business model that encourages huge waste and unsustainable consumption. But one German firm couldn’t be more different.

Trigema has been wholly owned by its CEO, Wolfgang Grupp, for more than 50 years. While its conversion to organic, circular production methods that are ‘Cradle to Cradle Certified’ is a more recent development, the firm’s strong sense of responsibility stems from Grupp’s long-term commitment to manufacturing textiles entirely in Germany – and more specifically, in Burladingen, Schwabia, where its factory is based.

Unlike the vast majority of other textile firms, Trigema doesn’t outsource any of its production overseas and only imports cotton. Everything else is made on site so it can maintain control over every aspect of the process. It also doesn’t operate a just-in-time system, which is the norm for the industry. Instead, Trigema produces all their own stock so any risk lies with the company and isn’t pushed down the supply chain to more vulnerable overseas suppliers, whose contracts can be cancelled at short notice with devastating consequences.

“Our actions must not be solely guided by goals such as increased power and greater market share, but by solidarity, respect for all members of our community, justice and sustainability,” says Grupp about the philosophy of Trigema, stating his number one priority is to look after his workers and protect their jobs.

It’s clear that Grupp sees his business as part of a bigger system: the community within which it operates. And if the overall system is in trouble, so is the company. As a result, Trigema’s social purpose is ultimately focused on supporting that system through fair wages, apprenticeships and the development of its ‘Trigema Family’ of staff, including sponsored degree courses and a guarantee of an apprenticeship or job for all employees’ children after they finish school.

Moreover, Grupp has deliberately chosen not to grow the company and increase profits if it means sacrificing his primary responsibility to these local stakeholders. Being the sole owner using 100% of his own capital means Grupp takes full responsibility for the business and isn’t beholden to any influence from banks or shareholders.This idea of personal liability and expertise is key to how Grupp manages the business. As owner he has the last say in every decision, but he relies on the experts in his company to guide him. So if a new machine is needed, he will buy whichever machine his production expert is asking for, but then they become personally responsible for delivering on machine’s promised improvements.

So by breaking away from the out-sourcing norms of the textile industry and absorbing the higher production costs of manufacturing in Germany, how has Trigema managed to survive?

Firstly, by making high-quality and durable products that people are willing to pay a premium for. Part of Grupp’s focus on sustainability came about through a search for something to distinguish the brand and justify its slightly higher price point. Secondly, the company has had to rapidly adapt its sales strategy, searching out new retailers when they demanded unsustainably low prices and eventually moving into selling through Trigema’s own stores and online to provide a more stable sales base.

Original research and interview with Grupp courtesy of Dr Christoph Biehl. (Photo of Grupp by LinovonLinares under Creative Commons license).