THE SOCK PRODUCER STRUMPF DIRKS HAS BUILT A NEW FACTORY IN THE MÜNSTERLAND REGION
“Made in Germany” is still a proof of quality for many people. In the clothing industry, the seal is now rarely found; against the backdrop of the tough price war and global cheap competition, numerous German companies have disappeared from the market, are fighting for survival or have relocated their production to foreign countries. Strumpf Dirks takes the opposite path.
The family business expands at the Münsterland site and has built a new stocking factory – the first in decades in Germany. In addition, new employees were hired. Why of all things is a sock manufacturer so successful?
It was sometime after the “Economic Miracle” period, when people still went into the department stores of the West German pedestrian zones and did not buy low-priced socks at discount stores or on the internet. It was then that the story of Strumpf Dirks began. Since 1964 the family business has been manufacturing in Billerbeck in Westphalia, a small town west of Münster.
In the following decades, an increasing number of companies in the German clothing industry were exposed to a difficult market and competitive environment. Strumpf Dirks has successfully maintained its position in the market to this day and has now expanded its production again – with an extension, new machines and new employees. Initially led by the founder Josef Dirks, his son Dietmar has been managing director since 1996.
After the takeover, Dietmar was faced with his first strategic decision. “We were exclusively active in contract manufacturing and made the decision to expand our production and to use our own brands. It was our family who last built a new stocking knitting factory in Germany in 1996. Now we are expanding again. As far as I know, this is unique in our industry in view of the past 50 years,” says Dietmar Dirks.
1.2 million socks for the German Armed Forces
Strumpf Dirks would probably have been affected in the same way as many other German clothing companies, which had no answer to the competition with cheap production in Asia or Eastern Europe. But from now on the family business knitted its own socks for the market, initially including 1.2 million pairs per year for the German Armed Forces. To this day, fire brigades, for example, are still among the customers. Later, the company entered private label production, and in 2008 it launched its own brand “JD”, named after its founder Josef Dirks. “We are growing steadily.
We focus primarily on niche products and quality. A seamstress sometimes works on an embroidered sock for almost a whole day. Before, employees were almost exclusively busy closing only the tip of the socks they received,” says Dietmar Dirks.
Exactly this tip is one reason why people buy the stockings of the Westphalian company. Despite competition from Asia or Eastern Europe, there are still customers who prefer to wear high-quality stockings on their feet, says Dietmar Dirks – whether for private use or as functional stockings at work, like fire fighters or craftsmen. The seam on the toes, for example, quickly causes pressure marks in tight shoes. That’s why the quality of the linking, that is the sewing of the front toe seam, is so important, and that’s exactly what Strumpf Dirks does by hand, as the managing director says.
As a result, the tip is pressure-free and elastic. The particularly flat seam offers a pleasant wearing comfort. “This variant is very time-consuming and labour-intensive, which is why these socks are often much more expensive. We are in the fortunate position that our customers are willing to pay for good quality. The customers’ desire for high standards allows us to continue manufacturing in Germany,” says Dirks. Cheaper alternatives, mass-produced, on the other hand, are machine-sewn, the so-called Rosson seams are noticeably more irregular, often bulging and poorly processed – and more uncomfortable to wear.
Around 200 models of traditional stockings
It is not only classic socks that contribute to the company’s success. In 2014 Strumpf Dirks took over the traditional sock brand “Lusana”, which has been manufacturing in Austria and Slovakia. Because Dietmar Dirks decided to close production in Austria immediately after taking over the brand and to move the production facility in Slovakia to Billerbeck as well, the company needed more space and, after a long planning period, has now expanded the current headquarters in Westphalia. “We have occupied a niche with the traditional Bavarian stockings”, says Dietmar Dirks. His company produces around 200 different models. “A pair of socks can cost as much as 350 euros,” says Dirks.
The quality of the stockings is characterized not only by the hand-linked top, but also by elaborate embroideries made by hand. As far as traditional stockings are concerned, the Billerbecker company is not only the largest, but also the manufacturer with the highest quality. In order to continue meeting this demand in the future, production was expanded in Germany.
More and more start-ups are among the customers of Strumpf Dirks. “One customer, for example, relies completely on merino wool socks,” says Dirks. “They’re beating a path to this guy’s door, it’s crazy.” Socks have become more than just a fashion statement. Today, handicraft with a love for detail, quality and individuality is in greater demand again – even for socks, Dirks says. “This is essentially the case with our own products as well as with private label products: It’s all about quality. For example, the demand for organic cotton is still growing. All our products are organic cotton, we don’t have any other cotton because this has simply become the standard of our suppliers.” Even socks made from the wool of baby alpacas – 180 euros a kilo – are produced by Strumpf Dirks. “But I couldn’t hold them in my hands, they were too soft for me.”
About Strumpf Dirks
For more than 55 years, Strumpf Dirks GmbH in Germany has been producing high-quality and exclusive branded stockings in Billerbeck. In addition to its own brands JD and Lusana as well as private label production, the company’s repertoire also includes technical textiles.
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