Often unheeded, the sewn-in labels that tell us where our clothes were made point to destinations that we may never have set foot in. Yet increasingly, leading brands are changing their approach, including one of Germany’s fashion powerhouses. Upon unfolding a brand new, freshly purchased Marc Cain jumper, you’ll notice a label inscribed with the words ‘100% Made in Germany’. Your new garment just happens to be a product of the brand’s latest innovative system, 3D Knit & Wear.
3D Knit & Wear and localised production go hand in hand, not least because the Marc Cain brand is firmly rooted in Germany. It is based in the small town of Bodelshausen in Baden-Württemberg, and the brand employs almost a thousand people in Germany, many of whom work at the headquarters. As a result, a substantial part of the Marc Cain system is carried out on the premises, from marketing and design through to production.
The future of fashion
In the clean, open space of the Bodelshausen production site, row upon row of knitting machines are lined up, reaching as far as the eye can see. In operation 24 hours a day, five days a week, complex pieces of machinery, laden with spools of wool, hum with the rhythmic back-and-forth knitting movement. The headquarters is equipped with no fewer than 100 knitting machines, consisting of 92 flat and 8 circular models.
In a rethinking of traditional production methods, these machines are the secret to 3D Knit & Wear. As Helmut Schlotterer – founder, owner and chairman – says, ‘Our IT activities are a pillar of our management culture, in particular the software we develop ourselves.’ Thanks to his aversion to bought-in, standardised software solutions, the company dedicated a total of 600 days to training in-house technicians in order to implement the 3D Knit & Wear model. This has resulted in a bespoke system that has been adjusted to Marc Cain’s unique requirements.
Behind the design
A sketch, elaborated during a meeting with the creative team, serves as a template from which the knitting technician can then program the knitting machine. From a design perspective, the 3D Knit & Wear system has obvious advantages over previous production methods when it comes to making jumpers and cardigans, even skirts and coats. The software and hardware allow for a large variety of patterns. Smooth knit or ribbed, cable stitch or jacquards, made from yarn creations sourced exclusively from Germany and Italy, can all be achieved on these machines.
Schlotterer explains that the 3D Knit & Wear model has turned production on its head. ‘Conventional flat knitting machines generally only produce individual components, such as sleeves, collars and front and back sections,’ he says. ‘But with the latest models in Marc Cain’s machine plant, a completely finished pullover is produced by one machine in a single-step process.’ This new method means that there are no seams, making for a better fit and a more comfortable finish. What’s more, since a finished garment comes out of one machine, the assembly stage is eliminated from the procedure, resulting in much shorter production times.
Insourcing, not outsourcing
Besides being an innovative approach to design through technology, the benefits of this new approach are plenty and 3D Knit & Wear is a clever way of operating in a sometimes over-globalised world. As Schlotterer succinctly puts it, ‘Marc Cain is firmly bucking the industry trend. Instead of outsourcing, the motto at Marc Cain is insourcing.’ This motto is the catalyst for a more sustainable model and Schlotterer explains that having most of the production centralised in one location, ‘provides ecological and economic benefits’. Since garments are not being shuttled back and forth from one location to another, both time and energy are saved. Modern machines, meanwhile, offer the means to reduce material waste. Schlotterer sees domestic production as an entirely positive development for the workforce. ‘Domestic production contributes to job security – in fact, the creation of new jobs is being planned,’ he explains.
This forward-thinking approach is nothing new. Since Marc Cain was founded in 1973, innovation has been at the very core of its brand culture, a spirit that has led to the company gaining the global presence it enjoys today. ‘Permanent innovation is the basis for research and development at Marc Cain,’ says Schlotterer. ‘Every day I try to impart this spirit to our employees; if I didn’t do this, it would be impossible to maintain a production base here in the long term.’ Marc Cain’s 3D Knit & Wear is very much a reflection of this ethos: in more than one sense of the word, it offers a seamless operation from the heart of southern Germany.