The New Shoe Biz Power Generation

The New Power Generation in Shoe Biz

There has been a quiet changing of the guard at one of Germany’s most renowned shoe manufacturers. Bernd Hummel has transferred responsibility for the brands to his two daughters Anne Katrin and Julia Hummel.

We talk to them about their path, their challenges and take on the new level of responsibility. Spoiler alert: these sisters are doin’ it (not only) for themselves.

»When customers become fans, that’s the greatest appreciation for the product and our work.«
You both grew up in a family of entrepreneurs. Looking back, how has this affected the way you do business?

Julia: There are many facets of entrepreneurship that our father exemplified and that we both took with us and developed further in different forms, depending on our inclination or talent, from enthusiasm for vision and creation to structured organisation. We certainly both developed an understanding of entrepreneurial dynamics, opportunities and risks from an early age.

The fact that the company very often “sits at the table” at home cultivates a strong work ethic and a great sense of responsibility. The close links between the company and the family allowed us to look beyond the confines of Pirmasens: international business partners came and went, we were allowed to go along to shoe fairs and business meetings. That made us curious about the world and entrepreneurship.

I think I was the first child in my class to have a current account: pocket money was paid into my account once a month. We were able to earn some extra money with small temporary jobs at the company.

Julia Hummel
Anne Katrin Hummel
Did you both realise from the start that one day you would carry on the family tradition?

Anne Katrin: Well, I studied architecture and started my professional life as an architect in Australia. When I moved back to Germany, I chose Berlin as my new location; coincidentally, we opened our first flip*flop store there. I took on the project, developed the store design and oversaw the remodelling and  all of a sudden I felt more connected to the brand than ever. When our designer fell ill during this phase, I initially took over the collection development, which was exactly my thing. Major parallels with architecture helped me. It’s all about form, material and function. As Creative Director and GM, I now take care of pretty much everything.

Julia: For me, it was also kind of unplanned. I was working for companies in the fashion industry in Hamburg and Amsterdam. There came a point when I was unhappy with my job and wanted a change. At the same time, I saw what my sister could do in her own company. I decided to take the first step into business and opened a flip*flop store in Amsterdam, my adopted home at the time. From then on, I gradually took on responsibility for different areas that suited me well with the experience I had from my previous jobs.

The history of the KangaROOS brand began in 1979 in the USA – when did the brand also become part of the Bernd Hummel Holding portfolio?

Julia: Our father stumbled across the brand at a shoe fair in the USA in 1981. He liked the idea of the brand: “The original shoes with pockets”. The kangaroo has a pouch, and the KangaROOS trainers have a little pocket  – still to this day, by the way! He became a licence holder for the brand, initially for the DACH region and now for the whole of Europe. The sporty models were a great addition to the shoes, from pumps to boots, that he had produced to date.

Julia, you are Managing Director of Bernd Hummel GmbH for KangaROOS, a brand that has three different line extensions. How are they defined?

Julia: We have divided the brand into three segments. With KangaROOS Super Shoes as the basis, we offer sneakers for the whole family in the brand’s entry-level price range. We have licensed this segment to a partner company. KangaROOS ORIGINALS is at the heart of the brand: authentic trainers inspired by the icons from our archives, with a strong focus on sustainability. Our credo is “heritage meets sustainability”: we do not want to and cannot rest on our strong heritage – we are positioning ourselves for the future.

KangaROOS Made in Germany is the brand leader. We manufacture trainers by hand, 100% Made in the Palatinate. Just a few minutes away from our office in the shoe city of Pirmasens, we create limited editions and collaborations that have found their way into the hearts and collections of sneaker lovers all over the world.

Which models currently represent the spirit of “KangaROOS Made in Germany” particularly well for you?

Julia: There are two completely different projects in particular that come to mind: First of all, there are our upcycling models OCTANE and PHANTOM which will launch in August this year: Within just two weeks, we have set up a production that uses only existing resources. Thanks to perfect preparation and digital visualisation, we even dispensed with the production of unnecessary prototypes. We used leftover materials from our Hummel&Hummel Schuhmanufaktur warehouse and the warehouses of our suppliers: Leather, mesh, soles, lining – nothing was produced separately. Local resources were used for other “ingredients” such as shoe boxes and labels in order to avoid transport routes. The result is a cool, innovative statement against overproduction and the waste of resources, manufactured by hand to a high standard of quality and durability.

On the other hand, there is the collabo with Pepsi (launch in July 2024) really represents the fascination of our small manufactory: we developed a KangaROOS X PEPSI sneaker together with the brand to mark the Pepsi logo relaunch. For a global brand like Pepsi, it shouldn’t be “just any” sneaker, but a sneaker made in Germany – a rarity and a craft that convinces and inspires.

What are the biggest challenges for the brands?

Anne Katrin: Compared to the time when the brands were once launched, we now face greater and louder competition. Gaining the attention of consumers is increasingly challenging and costly. Rapid developments – digital, media, consumer behaviour and on the procurement side – require constant adjustments.

Customer loyalty is an ongoing challenge that we meet with transparency and authenticity in order to remain credible and trustworthy. In addition, our brand name ‘flip*flop’ describes a generic term, similar to Tempo or sellotape. We do a lot to protect our brand.

Which moments as an entrepreneur are particularly fun?

Julia: I am delighted to receive positive feedback from end consumers who are enthusiastic about our brands and products. Knowing that our shoes are loyal companions to our customers is quite rewarding. We launched the “KangaROOS Day” last year where we invited sneaker fans to visit us and spend a day together in the factory and our office. The enthusiasm of the participants when they see on site how a sneaker is made in more than 100 steps, the appreciative feedback for the team and the product and the numerous posts on Instagram afterwards make me and the whole team happy. When customers become fans, that’s the greatest appreciation for the product and our work.

Anne Katrin, you are Managing Director of flip*flop GmbH – a brand that was acquired by your father more than 20 years ago. How do you develop the brand and its portfolio?

Anne Katrin: With every further development, the heart of the brand is and remains our flip*flop Original – the simplest shoe in the world – a classic with an iconic design that inspires the entire collection. flip*flop stands for timeless essentials, colours and relaxed vibes. Slip them on, you just feel good and start walking. As well we bring this typical flip*flop feeling from the beach to the city, to one’s home and the spa with our easy-to-wear collection: with pool slides, cosy home slippers or faux-fur booties.

What is your approach on collabos with brands such as Porsche, Tamara Comolli and Andreas Murkudis?

Anne Katrin: Collaborations play an important role in elevating our flip*flop Original as an icon; working with top brands emphasises the high-quality standards of our classic. When fashion instances such as VOGUE and top brands such as PORSCHE collaborate with us, where our branding is visible instead of labelling a “no name toe separator” with their logo, it shows that the flip*flop is valued as an “original” and that the quality is respected. Thanks to its classic simplicity, it is very versatile and never ceases to surprise.

You are also currently developing another shoe brand that will be produced in your own manufactory near Pirmasens …

Anne Katrin: We will be launching a small, fine collection under the name “Hummel&Hummel Schuhmanufaktur”: classics with a twist. It’s about timeless, casual styles, interpreted in a modern way. Everything is handcrafted to a high standard using regionally sourced materials and manufactured by our local team in every step of the process. We have deliberately not chosen a new brand name. The name Hummel&Hummel stands for the two generations in our family business and radiates transparency and trust.

Let’s talk about sustainability…

Julia: Sustainability has always been part of our company’s DNA: quality, durability and intrinsic value. These are all attributes that contribute to sustainability. We don’t want to make disposable products. We have a particularly good handle on sustainability in our own shoe factory here in Pirmasens. The products are made in limited editions, without long transport routes, and are seen as something special by their buyers and are therefore often cherished and cared for. We work with locally sourced materials wherever possible and develop upcycling models to utilise leftovers. For everything that we do not manufacture ourselves, we maintain long-standing business relationships with our suppliers, whom we work in close partnership.

Transparency along the supply chain has always been important to us. We work and experiment with sustainable materials such as fish leather, hemp or cork, increasingly using recycled materials and plastics collected during ocean clean ups. Our leathers are from LWG certified tanneries with silver or gold standard.  The material of the flip*flop ECO is made from abandoned shells; all Originals are vegan. We optimise our packaging…. and our father has been going round the company for as long as I can remember, switching off the lights where they are not really needed. It’s a very sensible use of our resources. For us, sustainability also means communicating values that employees and customers can identify with. This creates a sense of belonging, purpose and orientation.

At the "Hummel&Hummel Schuhmanufaktur"
Made in Germany
You two are now continuing what your father has built up. What role does he play now?

Anne Katrin: Our father is the most important mentor and advisor, his experience is incredibly valuable for us and the company. He stands for continuity and stability in the company. As a great optimist, he always remains positive and surprises us with new perspectives and solutions outside the box. His saying ‘Nothing is more constant than change’ has accompanied us for many years.

Even though the framework conditions are constantly changing over the years, he finds the right comparisons to current situations with all the lessons he has learnt in his entrepreneurial career and is almost always right with his assessments of challenges, opportunities and risks. The father/daughter collaboration has worked really well since day one. He trusts us and knows that we will get in touch with him if we need advice (smiles).

The headquarters of Hummel&Hummel: the former shoe factory Neuffer am Park
Thank you, Anne Katrin and Julia!

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