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How a fashion company is getting through the pandemic even without government aid

The German fashion and textile industry is in crisis. Even before the coronavirus pandemic, many companies had problems. Now they are demanding help from the state.
The Augsburg textile manufacturer Manomama, on the other hand, is getting through the Corona crisis without state aid and short-time work.
Boss Sina Trinkwalder believes the system of the conventional fashion industry is the cause of the current problems: “The crisis is completely self-made.”
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The German fashion and textile industry is in crisis. Even before the coronavirus pandemic, some companies in the industry were struggling. And now many people work in home offices and don’t need new suit pants or blouses. Ski vacations, parties, carnivals, and many other occasions for special clothing are canceled. As a result, sales in the clothing industry shrank by a third last year. A whole series of brands such as Esprit, Appelrath Cüppers, Hallhuber, and Adler had to file for bankruptcy.

Textile entrepreneur Sina Trinkwalder knows her way around problems and crises. “If you have a company like mine, then you are crisis-tested,” she tells Business Insider. “My employees and I, we are very stable in our minds. Over the last few years, we’ve been on the edge of our seats. We’ve just had the experience of all of us coming through just fine together.”

Manomama employees even received a pandemic bonus

Trinkwalder is the founder of Augsburg-based textile manufacturer Manomama. From the beginning, she took a different path than most. Her company was founded primarily out of a desire to provide work for disadvantaged people. Today, Trinkwalder has 150 employees, 130 of them in production. None are on short-time work.

“Many people who came to Manomama from Hartz IV work in my company; that was the company’s purpose from the beginning. These are people who were not considered employable on the first labor market, which is bullshit. If I send my people back to the kitchen table in this situation, we’ll need very large psychotherapeutic outreaches over the next few years,” Trinkwalder says.

Manomama has even hired people who can’t work during the pandemic. Authorized signatories from exhibition stand builders help out in the online store and cultural scientists in pre-production. The boss even paid her employees, whom she calls “ladies and gentlemen,” a coronavirus bonus – and finds it natural: “That’s part of getting through the crisis well, isn’t it, that you let everyone share in it?”

No overconsumption – less loss

The textile manufacturer uses only environmentally friendly materials from regional suppliers. Employees sew shopping bags for supermarkets and drugstores like Edeka and dm, as well as jeans and shirts. “Our huge advantage is that we have not been heading for overconsumption since our founding. We don’t have the problem with us that the warehouses are overflowing,” explains the entrepreneur. “With us, it’s like this: we tinker with the collection, we sew ten or 15 pieces of each product, put it on the Internet, and then we notice relatively quickly what is well received. Our computers tell us which hoodie or which shirt is in high demand and where it’s worth producing 800 pieces. That’s why we don’t have the problem of having to write things off or scrap them.”

The situation is different for conventional retailers. Almost all fashion groups have their clothing produced in low-wage countries in Asia. Since transport takes several weeks, large quantities have to be produced and shipped in advance. In addition, fashion changes quickly. Even before the pandemic, overproduction was a major problem in the industry, which is considered the second dirtiest after the oil industry.

“The crisis is completely self-made by the manufacturers and retailers. 25 years ago, there were two collections, a fall-winter, and a spring-summer collection. Now, in times of fast fashion, we are in the process of offering a new world to the customer every week. They don’t need that and they don’t want it. We produce a lot of hazardous waste, you really have to say that,” Trinkwalder criticizes.

“If we can cope with it, as a social project without any funding, then the rest must also be able to cope with it somehow.”

In the spring, Manomama spontaneously produced mouth-nose masks – from the fabric that was actually intended for shirts. Even now in the second lockdown, the company came up with something. “We have great new ideas, and we’ve been using the time in lockdown since November to develop those ideas, learn new manufacturing techniques, get new collections going, so we can come out with new ideas in April,” the 42-year-old says.

The company has not yet received any government help. “Manomama has been around for eleven years. We’ve never received any government funding, we haven’t received any subsidies, we’ve financed even the basic research – be it our hemp jeans, be it our recycling circuit – ourselves. We have managed everything on our own,” Trinkwalder emphasizes. For years, the entrepreneur has been promoting her concept of social, ecological, and regional production in the media.

Even now in the pandemic, the Augsburgers received no funding. Instead, they even received a rent increase for their small retail store in March – while at the same time Adidas announced it was suspending rents for its stores. Only after a shitstorm did the Dax corporation withdraw its decision.

Trinkwalder is disturbed by the fact that large fashion companies like Tom Tailor receive state aid of 100 million euros, even though it does not produce in Germany at all and is owned by the Chinese corporation Fosun. “If we can cope with it, as a social project without any subsidies, then the rest must be able to cope with it somehow. What’s going wrong?” she asks. “You can’t privatize profits and socialize losses, that’s at the expense of society.”

With its concept, she says, a company like Manomama doesn’t have the ability to generate profits in good times that can be lived on in bad times. “We use our creativity in bad times,” Trinkwalder says. She sees the fact that her company is now getting through the Corona crisis without government aid and short-time work not only as temporary confirmation that she is right with her way of running the company: “My concept always pays off, just not monetarily, but humanly.”

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