Henning Strauss has been carrying on the tradition of the family-run Engelbert Strauss company for 20 years, and ensures innovation in the brand and product areas. Only recently, the producer of workwear and outdoor clothing made news with a brand relaunch. But Strauss is also breaking new ground by turning to fashionable product lines and creative installations in its workwear stores. Time for a chat.
Interview: Gerrit Terstiege.
Let’s start with the recently introduced redesign of your brand. What prompted the update of the corporate and packaging design?
Our brand identity consists of the image of the ostrich [note: “Strauss” in German means “ostrich”] in combination with the typography of my grandfather’s first and last name Engelbert Strauss. All this is very striking, especially since Engelbert is nowadays a rather unusual first name. Initially, we discussed the matter intensively with a renowned typographer and then agreed on a capital letter spelling. And in a second step, we decided to simplify the way the bird is represented.
Your pictorial logo has made a leap: from a quite detailed illustration to great abstraction and simplification. It has now also taken on something technoid. Was this aspect part of the briefing?
That was our wish: that we as a company come across as more technical and that the aspect of tools also plays a part. And that we might appeal to the younger, more digitally-minded generation with an even more striking appearance of the bird.
On Instagram, there are numerous pictures in your feed, under the hashtag #StraussChallenge, of how the new sign is being implemented by fans and customers in various materials. From cakes to honeycombs to light projections – a pretty relaxed approach to the new logo …
Yes, our corporate culture is very relaxed and we want to express that through our various channels. The B2B component of the Strauss Challenge was aimed directly at our consumers. We combine both B2B and B2C. This action in connection with the new corporate design was an invitation to participate in this brand concept, to become part of it and also to develop an understanding for the step that the new sign can be reproduced in the most diverse ways. Whether with the lawn mower or while baking in the kitchen.
But sometimes you now do without the “Engelbert” as part of your brand name – and sometimes not. Why?
We like to compare “Engelbert Strauss” with a bell plate: depending on the length of the bell plate, you can use your first name and surname or just your family name. However, there is a basic understanding and internal guideline that “Engelbert Strauss” is always part of the product labelling.
You, Mr Strauss, are responsible for the brand and product areas, while your wife bears the title of Creative Director. What is the difference between your tasks?
My wife’s “Workwear Couture” collection is aimed at a more fashion-savvy target group within our existing clientele. These are very unusual fashion creations that take up the themes of work and workwear. The charming thing about this is that it also allows us to do things on the product side that give the brand a new expression.
You have also announced a Workwear Couture Award. What exactly is it intended to promote?
We promote craftsmanship in the field of textiles, i.e. in fashion. Fashion has a strong creative component and a design component. But ultimately, it is also about craftsmanship. And because production is not only located in our company, but also in many other companies, even in remote locations, our aim is to bring this development closer to the company. For example, we have invested in the construction of a new technical workshop. It’s also about types of processing, strong fabrics and striking details, about durability. And today – more topical than ever – also about sustainability.
Do you currently see your brand in a transformation process, in the sense of “workwear goes fashion”?
Always. We are constantly in a process of transformation. Personally, I have been part of this company since my childhood and have been active here for exactly 20 years now. And in retrospect, it has always been the case that we have questioned ourselves with the aim of reinventing ourselves. We are currently seeing a trend that is reinterpreting workwear facets. And this in a purely fashionable environment. We often discuss zeitgeist issues and trends. In general, making has taken on a new meaning today, and the tangible approach in this digital and increasingly complex world.
The design of your work shoes is often indistinguishable from that of normal sneakers. Do you have your own in-house design department or are some models also designed by external designers?
We rely heavily on in-house design and attach great importance to ensuring that the different product concepts are coordinated with each other. For example, there are quite a few shoes whose design is also based on our clothing collections. Occasionally we also work with external designers, but we are convinced of our in-house creations and the in-house design process, because only this allows us to present a seamless image to the outside world.
I visited your workwear store in Oberhausen and was surprised to find quasi-artistic installations made of tools or work gloves there. So, also at the point of sale: a playful approach. Who did these designs come from?
The basic idea in this case also comes from our own company. About 15 years ago, we designed lounge furniture from conventional pallet wood for an event. And when we then fundamentally redesigned our retail image, it was precisely these details that strengthened the brand and made it visible. With loving details that speak for themselves and convey our appreciation for craftsmanship: When a few everyday working materials become design objects, then there is a statement in it and it also reflects our understanding of values.
Your CI Factory is all about personalisation and co-branding. Strauss products with the FC Bayern [football team] logo are the first. What other cooperations are planned?
We have a wealth of ideas and current approaches that we discuss here at our headquarters and with external partners. The possibilities for cooperation are quite broad. In the area of sport, we have started with FC Bayern. There are also plans to enter into partnerships in the field of entertainment. This creates real added value that goes beyond the actual product.
Together with the Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit, you have launched a university cooperation with the United Nations University, TU Dresden and Ahsanullah University in Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka. A chair for sustainability and textile innovation has been established there. What exactly is that all about?
We have been involved in Southeast Asia for several years, including in Laos and Bangladesh. In recent years, we have been able to build up larger production capacities with partners in Bangladesh. We are currently in the process of establishing our own small-scale production in the rural south of the country. Personally, I have often been there myself for over ten years and appreciate the good cooperation and also the willingness to invest of our long-term partners. I am passionate about making the country more visible here in our communication, with the guiding principle “Proudly made in Bangladesh”. The country rarely receives positive international coverage. My own experiences are quite different. The factories we work with have a very high standard and I would like to report on this facet of the country. And that is why we also initiated the chair in Dhaka, which we will finance permanently. The country can definitely develop further in the textile sector, towards more complex products, with higher appreciation, which also serve the economic development of the country.
“I am passionate about making Bangladesh more visible in our communications, with the guiding principle of ‘Proudly made in Bangladesh’.”
— Henning Strauss
A view inside a Strauss pop-up store. © Engelbert Strauss GmbH & Co. KG
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