What does a pioneer do instead of retiring? Our company founder Albrecht von Dewitz just keeps going!
in 2009, Albrecht von Dewitz handed over the management of his company to daughter Antje - 35 years after founding the company as one of the pioneers, of the outdoor industry. Good conditions to put your feet up and enjoy retirement?
Not for Albrecht von Dewitz. He remains with us at VAUDE as Chairman of the Advisory Board, established the "VAUDE Sport Albrecht von Dewitz Foundation" and is Managing Director of the mountain sports outfitter and climbing rope pioneer Edelrid. And shortly before handing over the management, he founded another new company: in Vietnam.
In an interview, he told us how this came about and what he still has planned.
Albrecht von Dewitz founded his own backpack production in Vietnam
Albrecht von Dewitz founded the new backpack production in Vietnam back in 2008. He had already gained some experience with production in Asia at that time. "The production of backpacks in Germany was simply too expensive and also the resources or capacities for employees* and materials are not available. This began, for example, with the difficulty of finding enough qualified employees* in production - especially for sewing - and ended with the supply chains for fabrics and components, which hardly existed and still exist in Germany. But we decided early on to keep the high-tech manufacturing, such as the high-frequency welding of our waterproof backpacks and bags, in Germany and to expand it," the outdoor pioneer recalls in our interview.
In the case of backpacks, he says the time was simply ripe, on the one hand to be less dependent on external partners and, in view of the approaching handover of the company to his daughter Antje, to take the next step personally.
"It was a strategic decision and the search for a new challenge that drove me to set up a new production facility in Asia," von Dewitz recalls.
VAUDE Vietnam manufactures backpacks and bags for VAUDE
So in 2008, the outdoor pioneer bought a factory in Bỉm Sơn in northeastern Vietnam. The country had turned out to be an ideal location for many reasons. Von Dewitz knew Vietnam well. Supply chains, infrastructure and qualified personnel for the production of technically high-quality products were available. His experienced companion and our former production manager Hansjörg Egger, who also did not feel like retiring and who had already helped set up the backpack and bag production at our headquarters in Obereisenbach, was on board from the very beginning.
"At the beginning, there was still a certain development deficit on site. Especially in terms of technical equipment and machinery, we brought a lot of experience with us," says von Dewitz. Today, the transfer of knowledge has long since taken place in both directions. In the case of machinery and technical know-how, mainly from Germany to Vietnam. In the optimization of the production chain and the stringency of the processes, on the other hand, Vietnam is developing so strongly thanks to the high level of initiative of the local people that, as a production country, it is now ahead of Germany in many respects.
The number of employees quickly rose from 300 to over 1,000.
The number of employees at VAUDE Vietnam in Bỉm Sơn has grown steadily from 300 to more than 1,000 today. This is due on the one hand to the high demand and on the other hand to the sales market. Products are not only manufactured there for VAUDE and Edelrid in Germany, but also for other well-known sporting goods manufacturers. In addition, VAUDE Vietnam is also considered a special and attractive employer. The company is committed to regulated social and environmental standards. This starts with A for auditing and ends with Z for payment of wages.
"With VAUDE, we were one of the first Bluesign partners, the world's strictest standard for environmental and consumer protection in textile production ever."
It goes without saying that VAUDE Vietnam also works according to the bluesign® system. In addition, there are audits by TÜV Süd, PP/PSA certifications for safety criteria and independent checks of working conditions by the renowned Fair Wear Foundation.
Celebrating together and supporting each other is an appreciation towards the country and the employees*.
VAUDE Vietnam is a popular employer. Wages are above average compared to the rest of the country, with up to two months' salary as an additional bonus at the end of the year. Of course, there are also challenges and areas where continuous improvement is needed, e.g. a lot is invested in training and further education of the employees. "This is rather unusual in Vietnamese companies," explains von Dewitz, adding:
"We celebrate a lot and like to do so, which is typical for VAUDE, but also rather rare here in Vietnam. Our employees love it and participate with their own ideas and events."
After a flood disaster, VAUDE Vietnam produced school backpacks and donated them
Overall, VAUDE Vietnam enjoys a very homogeneous workforce, which gives back the high esteem in which the company holds them. Another reason is the company's commitment in the social sector - not only for its own employees*, but for the whole country. "When there was a major flood disaster in 2020 and many families lost everything, we produced school backpacks and donated them along with school supplies, sleeping bags and blankets. Our people really appreciate it and participate heavily."
As the owner, he is rewarded with low staff turnover and a high degree of predictability - which is mutual: "We are a reliable, predictable employer and our employees thank us through commitment, quality and trust," says von Dewitz.
Challenges and future plans for production in Bỉm Sơn
VAUDE Vietnam in Bỉm Sơn is already working at the limit of its capacity, and a next expansion step is not possible because the area of the site is simply exhausted. At the same time, what is already happening in South Korea and China is increasingly happening in Vietnam - the tech industry is becoming the dominant employer, and wages are rising.
So what is the next step? Is automation an option? Is manufacturing even coming back to Europe? Robots at least don't play a role in the VAUDE founder's plans for the future at the moment. In backpack production itself, there are currently hardly any sensible applications for them: the series are too small, the variety of colors and small parts is too high, and the fabrics are too soft. Textile production remains manual work outside the manufacturing periphery, such as in material flow and transport or cutting.
Nor does von Dewitz see a return of production to Germany or Europe. Not only because of the costs. Germany simply no longer has the resources: The personnel and supply chains needed to reliably produce large textile or backpacks have been located in Asia for many years.
And what's next? A future in Vietnam!
"We have no plans to leave Vietnam, on the contrary: we are expanding and want to produce even better and more modern in the country."
So, in order to remain viable in the long term, our company founder has already purchased a new area. Eight hectares of land not only allow for many expansion steps in the future, but also more space for gardens, community rooms, time for the employees* to switch off a bit and lots of green around the factory. As a true pioneer, Albrecht von Dewitz continues with great drive!
A little VAUDE fun fact for everyone who has read this far :-)
Our company name VAUDE is derived from the initials v.D. of our company founder's last name. If you simply put the letters V and D in a row, pronounced as Vau and De, it becomes VauDe and VAUDE respectively. And that's exactly how it's pronounced!