In 1999 Jörg Bahner decided to reestablish BAHNER Strumpf GmbH after Bi Strumpf GmbH had been sold 2 years earlier. Bi stockings were known for high quality products. The focus was on a clear collection for support articles with fashionable optics and effective support function for the consumers. Today BAHNER Strumpf GmbH offers knee socks, thigh socks and pantyhose from 20den to 140den in fashionable colours in 3 support classes. The history of how Jörg Bahner and his father Gerhard influenced German stocking history is described below.
From Bi Gerhard Bahner KG to BAHNER Strumpf GmbH:
Bankruptcies are catastrophes. The bankruptcy of the Bayerische Couvertfabrik burdened the city of Lauingen until after the war. But bankruptcies are sometimes also a blessing. Without the bankruptcy of the factory owner Carl Josef Schmid in Lauingen there would not have been the famous new Deutz-Fahr building today and without the halls of the former envelope factory there would also never have been the settlement of the Bahner company in Lauingen.
The company Bahner has brought Saxon stocking knitting tradition and Saxon textile technology to Lauingen. In November 1948 Karl Bahner founded the company “Süddeutsche Wirkerei und Strickerei”. With the overlong flat knitting machines the production of nylon stockings started and was successful from the beginning. Stockings, whether high-quality or cheap, found their way into the market. The company soon had 50 employees, most of them from Oberlungwitz/Saxony.
The production rooms quickly became too small. In 1953, the knitting mill was set up in a hall of the former bait factory (later Landmaschinen Wirth). In 1955, an area on Dillinger Straße (50,000 square metres) was acquired and a new factory built. At its 25th anniversary, the company had 550 employees. The number of employees had thus increased tenfold compared to the beginnings. (DZ No. 198 of 20.8.1974). 1955 – that was the economic miracle period. Wages grew slowly. One could not make big jumps. But one allowed oneself and/or one’s partner the luxury in the small one: expensive stockings (the pair cost 10 Marks and more – a Breze only 5 Pfennig), chic knitting fashion, a moped or a scooter, vacation by course – in Austria or Italy. Anyone who went out to eat wanted it to be “bourgeois”. The Bahner company certainly scored with the canteen on the new company premises.
Like ELBEO, bi stockings were positioned in the high-price segment and initially unchallenged in the competition;” the stockings could not be fine enough at that time,” writes Jörg Bahner in his documentary. With the invention of pantyhose, the German stocking industry has been able to achieve new sales successes since the mid-1960s. What was needed, however, was the purchase of expensive circular knitting machines, which already lightened the ranks of the competitors somewhat. At the turn of the 70s, Bahner had considerably expanded its sales activities. One fifth of the production went to other European countries. The figures show to what extent the domestic market was still receptive. The main distribution channel at that time was the specialist trade: in Lauingen, the textile company Mittermaier, the two fashion designers (who also carried haberdashery) and “small shops for short and gallantry” were (as they said at that time). The specialised trade advised the customers, and with its orders it also gave feedback to which the management reacted quickly. So everything went well: the employees earned well and were able to benefit from some social benefits (including a backed pension plan), the company management could count on its employees, mainly employees, and on its works council. The city received the site for the Kurlandkindergarten as a gift and a considerable construction subsidy (DZ No. 198 of 29.08.1974). Sports clubs and Swabian competitive athletes were supported by Bahner. There was also a Bahner football team: “15 games without victory are proof of an idealistic attitude to sport! How true! 25 years after its foundation, Gerhard Bahner KG was well positioned. They had established bi-stockings and bi-knit fashions as brands; they had recognized the importance of advertising; they had opened up markets outside Germany and made a name for themselves especially in the fashion world. All kinds of materials were experimented with during development. The machinery was state of the art. The workplaces seemed safe. Nobody could have guessed that a quarter of a century later everything would be over. There are many individual reasons for this: Recession, oil crisis with slumps in 1973/74 and 1980/81, changes in lifestyles. But let us not forget the main reason: globalization. A comparison is a better way to show this.
Let us take the company Feller & Co. When Bahner celebrated its 25th anniversary, Feller had been a cloth factory for a century. Of 420 cloth manufacturers in 1955, Feller had been able to stay among the last 60 (DZ No. 50 of 29.2.1984 S.VII). As a manufacturer of traditional costume and trouser fabrics and as the largest uniform manufacturer in Germany, the Lauinger Tuchfabrik was “known worldwide” (as in the advertising supplement). They worked in three shifts. The factory was run by recognized experts. Wolfgang Feller as a textile engineer and Helmut Feller as a textile merchant represented a leadership duel as we have known it since the beginnings of industrialisation: technical and commercial competence come together. The company name usually also expresses this: Ködel & Böhm, Feiten & Guilalume, etc. So you can be sure: The end of Feller was not a management error, but the result of global developments that eventually led to the Swabians being “torn” in the textile landscape after a millennium (as it was formulated in a publication with powerful images). When Jörg Bahner took over the company “Bi Strumpf GmbH” after the sudden death of his father in 1976, he had – rather a rare case in our economic history – acquired both comprehensive technical and commercial competence. After grammar school and basic military service with the Bundeswehr, he completed an internship in a sweater knitting factory in Meaux near Paris in 1965, studied textile technology in Leicester from 1965 to 1967 and graduated as a textile engineer. 1967 – 1970 he studied business administration in Munich and graduated as a business economist FH. And before he could assume responsibility in the company, he had to prepare a job description for every position in the company. This took two years. But now he knew the company from the ff. It was now he who drove the change in the company: the introduction of flexible working hours – also in production -, the closure of the ladies’ outerwear division with social plan, the change to a new advertising agency.
One cannot “restructure” a company of this size with an ambitious product line from one day to the next, as some still promise today. But you can counteract unfavourable developments. And that’s exactly what the CEOs of Feiler and the young CEO of Bahner did. These were heroic attempts and desperate efforts to save what could be saved for the workforce. The young “company consultants” who swarm out today have nothing to offer – apart from cheap sayings. In retrospect one is always smarter. But to say: someone overslept the development – isn’t that a bit cheap? And it’s unfair! But let’s look at the chronicle of Jörg Bahner. For the 80s he notes:
We sold as almost the first pantyhose with Lycra.
We bought textile printing machines to print stockings and pantyhose.
We worked together with Swarowski, Kaufbeuren, to glue rhinestones.
We bought the latest machines to print patterns on the stockings.
We added leggings to our program.
We set up foreign companies to transport yields and goods to the best location.
We set up a company to produce and distribute Pierre Cardin as a licensed brand.
We built a new administration building. (… )
We celebrated the move in with Karstadt, Hertie, Horten and Kaufhof
This is entrepreneurship at its best! And not a snoring company. Even if we do not have any reports from the Feller company.an can bet that nothing has been left untried in order to keep up with the market. At “Portofino” in Gundelfingen it was no different.
For the companies mentioned, the end was not surprising. Jörg Bahner writes in his documentary: “The sale of the company and the brand name Bi could no longer be stopped in 1997. The new owner, Sara Lee, was able to continue employing the employees for another three years, and production was then relocated to Schongau.” Certainly, many reasons of a more technical nature play a role in such developments. The Austrian company “Wolford”, for example, had an elastic yarn that was superior to the “Lycra” of the American group Dupont. But this technical reason is not enough. The refusal of the 68ers to consume led to a new uniform: sneakers, jeans, parka, the girls’ jeans and T-shirt. What initially appeared to be student folklore finally became established as a style of clothing. Fine fabrics, beautiful lingerie and elegant clothes were suddenly out of fashion. When the driver of a global corporation in jeans and an open white shirt stepped in front of the registrars from Landsberg, it was obvious that the art of dressing had also been lost in our countries.
In this respect, the Bahner company’s great advertising campaigns were ultimately doomed to failure. The fact that Bahner has written advertising history, however, is illustrated by a stocking pack, which for years was shown in the Brockhaus under the term advertising as an example of a particularly successful pack design.
This also brings us to the Bi brand. Actually, Gerhard Bahner only wanted to turn the B into the company logo. His two cousins protested against this. So he took the B in his spelling form: Be. That would have been a bit reminiscent of the brand that his father created halle: Louis Bahner Oberlungwitz, EI Be O spoken and ELBEO written. But the Bellinda brand objected to Be. So it came to Bi, with the advantage that you could vary the i-spot color and thus mark the articles. For example “the bi stocking with the purple dot”.
Today we find machines of the companies Bahner and Feller in Augsburg in the textile museum. Also a part of the sample books of both companies seems to have landed there. However, most of the machinery quickly landed in the up-and-coming emerging markets of Asia. There was no stopping this competition. Only the brave Mr. Grupp is against it with “Trigema” and Mr. Bahner has already made a new start in 1999 with the company “Bahner Strumpf GmbH”. With a support stocking collection for women (later also for men) he proved that technologically sophisticated products can withstand a deregulated world market. Production had to be relocated to Italy in 2002 because the German manufacturer had become insolvent. But production and sales function perfectly. Of course, new distribution channels also had to be found, and all that remains is online trading. Amazon first of all where a VHS trip will take us this autumn. The actual specialized trade is now available in a different form: in the medical supply stores. And what is sold there is “fashion with function”, as Jörg Bahner once put it in an interview for his support stockings and tights collection.
On 1.1.2010, Florian Bahner took over Bahner Strumpf GmbH in the 14th generation. 14 generations: that goes back a long way. At that time Lauingen had only two stocking makers. Today there are two again. But while some were only able to supply the city, our modern stocking knitters supply the whole world. At that time there was only one stocking colour, namely white (black stockings were used for women’s fashion at the end of the 19th century), today our stocking knitters can offer their articles in ten colours. And while stocking fashion (including support stockings) first focused on women, fine, mostly silk stockings were then considered a matter for men who wanted to show off their beautiful “calves”. As Barbara Vincken teaches us in her book on fashion, men’s legs were found to be simply “sexy”. (Bernhard Ehrhart, retired StD, from VHS Magazine 2/16)