Pantolinos founder Iris Mesenbrink: “The apparel industry is not particularly attractive”
Pantolinos is awarded the German Design Award for the leather ring “Loop” in February (we reported). The factory is located fifty kilometers north of Hanover and specializes in organically produced baby shoes. In the meantime, accessories and toys have also become part of the product range. Luna Journal spoke with Managing Director Iris Mesenbrink about the past year, the compatibility of family and career in her company, as well as the next Pantolinos projects.
Luna Journal: Mrs. Mesenbrink, how did the financial year 2017 go for Pantolinos?
Iris Mesenbrink: I’m quite satisfied with the year 2017, the loop was nominated for the German Design Award 2018, the Pantolinos continue to enjoy growing popularity due to their quality and customizability.
You founded the manufactory in 2002 during your parental leave. How did this come about and how did you get to children’s shoes?
This kind of shoes were quite new on the market in 2002 and my son needed the next size, so I remembered my tailoring training and developed the first cut in the required size. The mothers were also in need of help and a little later I registered the business. The brand name was soon found and then everything took its course.
From the very beginning, you were also very concerned about the balance of work and family life? In 2011, you were awarded the FaMi seal of approval. What experience have you had with this?
The compatibility of family and work was decisive for me from the very beginning because that is exactly what made it impossible for me to return to my previous job. 15 years ago, there was no part-time work and compatibility with my former employer, so my own involvement in my company became an important issue. When I heard about the FaMi seal, I thought it was just great that this aspect is finally getting more of a focus. I also received a very positive response at many trade fairs. I had a key experience with a trader who almost passed us and suddenly saw and stopped the FaMi seal. She said that she likes family friendliness and now wants to take a closer look at the products, even if she already sells this kind of shoes in her shop. After that, she also sold our shoes.
The location of Pantolinos with Buchholz a. d. Aller in Lower Saxony is not exactly an urban location. Do you draw special strength from the province? Isn’t it hard to get the right specialists here?
We are located at the main arterial road A7 between Hanover and Hamburg and directly at the junction to Bremen, but in a small village with 600 inhabitants. Especially in the countryside, it is difficult for young mothers to connect children with work, because the paths to previous jobs are usually quite long and can hardly be mastered during the opening hours of kindergarten or primary school. But sewing at home is also a popular occupation for older workers just before retirement.
But they’re still not exactly bombarding you, are they?
Specialists in the clothing industry are in any case scarce in Northern Germany because there has hardly been any training here for decades. Firstly, the sector has never been very strongly represented in Northern Germany and the few companies that used to exist here have almost all relocated their production abroad about 20 years ago or have closed down the company for lack of successors. The attractiveness of the clothing industry is not particularly high, simply because the earning potential is not very abundant and often lies at a level of unskilled work. However, the sewing workshop is also a matter of the heart and fortunately, thanks to the new trend hobby among young mothers, so that although there are fewer skilled workers, there are many who already have good prerequisites for familiarizing themselves with sewing.
How’s sales at Pantolinos? Do you “only” sell via your own online shop or do you still have trading partners? Are there any types of cooperation in the pipeline?
We try to position ourselves as broadly as possible and distribute through almost all possible channels, from direct sales at trade fairs to various small and large retailers and the production of retail brands for chain stores. Only the way via commercial agents is always very difficult because our leather is produced in Germany and we produce here so that the high production costs do not allow any air for a further intermediate trade.
With the Loop quoit and many other accessories, you have extended the range of children’s shoes at an early stage. What else is planned in this area in the near future?
As a next step we are planning to expand into the dog segment. Dog toys and accessories will be launched on the market under their own brand.
What should 2018 look like for Pantolinos?
2018 will undoubtedly be an exciting year for us because the new products, the Loop, which will receive the German Design Award at Ambiente in Frankfurt in early February and the new dog line must prove themselves in the market. There are also some new shoe models in the Pantolinos segment and some ideas still need to be hatched.
Image: Pantolinos – Iris Mesenbrink