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Zimmerli – the World’s finest underwear, up close and personal
Wednesday, Dec 15, 2010, 9:34 AM / Switzerland
Zimmerli is about to launch its first women’s ready-to wear collection Womanity Shirt, and TribaSpace was the first to find out more about the Swiss manufacturer’s newest coup.
A majority of people might recall a very-much-in shape Sylvester Stallone in Rocky wearing a smooth tank-top for gents-the star of the Zimmerli collection, the Richelieu. Zimmerli, in fact did not pay a penny for this product placement (a concept widely unknown at that time) but it was simply the good work of a stylist who picked up the fine-twisted cotton classic. The rest is history – Joaquin Phoenix wore Richelieu in Walk the Line, Jamie Foxx in Ray and Denzel Washington in Devil in a Blue Dress. Zimmerli's A-List admirers also span both sides of the pond including the Royals, and anyone with a decent IMDB (the biggest movie database) record.
And still today, it is a modest 70-employee manufacturer, dedicated to making the finest lingerie and leisure wear, conceived, designed and produced in Switzerland, who will celebrate its 140th anniversary in 2011.
It all began when vocational school teacher Pauline Zimmerli’s husband’s business went bankrupt in 1871, and she decided it was time to embark on her entrepreneurial career. She purchased a state-of-the-art knitting machine capable of creating a plain stitch, which had been invented only a few years earlier in the United States. After making and selling 12 to 18 pairs of finely-woven stockings each day, Pauline became known to her neighbours and neighbours of the neighbours. So she did what every entrepreneur would do – hired employees and made her sisters and sons her sales force. France began importing Zimmerli underwear as early as 1876. That same year, she commissioned an American machine tool manufacturer to build a two-needle machine based on her specifications, that would allow her to produce elastic, ribbed material known as Swiss Ribbed Goods, renown for its ability to achieved 50 rows per 2.54 centimetres, instead of the usual 32 rows. The yarn is twisted and stretched, doubling its original strength.
Today, while other manufacturers turn to synthetic fibres to lend elasticity to their underwear, Zimmerli continues to rely entirely on natural products and a sophisticated manufacturing process resulting in perfected flat-stitch knitting. The knitted cotton material for Richelieu shirts, for example, is turned over on three different machines with the finest possible weave, a process that produces only a limited quantity each day. They use only long staple cotton spun by Swiss mills into high-quality yarn, and the final product is hand-assembled in a factory in Coldrerio in Tessin.
Their latest adventure is the first ready-to-wear women’s collection, Womanity Shirt, to be launched in January 2011. We spoke exclusively with Marcel Hossli, Zimmerli's C.E.O, to find out more about the collection and plans for the future.
TribaSpace: Zimmerli celebrates 140 years of history next year. Which traditions would you like to take into the future?
Marcel Hossli: Zimmerli is indeed a very tradition-oriented enterprise founded by Pauline Zimmerli, a woman of great vision and an innovative mind. She regarded her work to be of a highest quality, which is Zimmerli’s core philosophy today. Quality and innovation is what Zimmerli stands for, and we will work hard on doing so in the future.
It is not always easy to maintain quality, especially in times of global mass production and with the variety of choices customers have. How does Zimmerli cope with the demand and pressure to stay ahead of the game?
Zimmerli is 100% Swiss-manufactured, which is definitely to our advantage. Local production is easy to manage as the quality control is guaranteed. We can also react quickly if our major buyers or distributors require changes – be it additional quantity or variety of styles. Local production is not much of the agenda for many fashion houses today, but I think there is a real future for the companies with high-quality standards and heritage history. If you also think about environmental issues, such as transportation costs and manufacturing control, Zimmerli pays attention to these and our customers really appreciate that. In terms of numbers – healthy 6% to 10% growth in the last year highlights positive developments. Yes we maintain the same level of high-priced products but our customers are willing to pay it for the quality we deliver.
Zimmerli is about to launch the first ready-to-wear women’s collection in January 2011. How come you decided to do this and what was the idea behind it?
This is a natural continuation of what we do and very much a response to our customer’s demand. Our fine knitted underwear was well regarded by our core customers and they kept asking whether we could produce pieces that can also be worn as daily basics. That’s when we started thinking about our first women’s collection – which is really basic but absolutely wearable and easily combined with all sorts of styles. I happen to think these pieces have a potential to become a real classic every woman has in her wardrobe, no matter how old or young she is. And again quality is an issue as we use jersey, cashmere and silk fabrics, mixed with micro-modal. For the initial launch we came up with eight different products in a variety of colours.
How long does it take to produce such a small collection?
About seven months from the designs (which are created in-house) to the production. The timeline applies to our general production cycle. Underwear is a tricky business, as the pieces should feel like a second skin. We take as long with the fitting as it is needed to create a perfect form for every man and woman. We consider that our cutomers will not all necessarily have model sizes, and that’s why it is extremely important to adopt the designs to physiology of a human body.
What are exactly are “Swiss-made” values in your eyes?
Everything that is produced in Switzerland has to do with the attitude of those who make things. First of all, we are a small country with no particular resources, and we have always been a serving and trading country. Service, quality, and the customers’ needs are extremely important to the Swiss. In addition, I would name the down-to-earth attitude, honesty and reliability. These values are appreciated worldwide and make Swiss products really unique.
The modern world is changing quickly, and new media play a significant role in the business of fashion. Where do you see Zimmerli catching up on this?
New technologies indeed cannot be ignored any longer. I see these developments as an additional opportunity to reach out to a broader audience and possibly win new target groups. It is also the most effective way to receive immediate feedback about our products – we are very open to criticism and our own perception is changing through social media. We just have to make sure we use it wisely and do not compromise our core DNA – really enjoying doing what we do and to be proud of our work in every little authentic detail.
Zimmerli of Switzerland showcases at Pitti Imagine/Pitti Uomo in Florence in January 11- 14, 2011.
For general and wholesale enquiries please send an email to info (at) zimmerli.com or call 0041 62 787 40 00
For press enquiries (Switzerland and France) contact Anne Gorgerat Kall Anne (at) annegorgerat.com
For press enquiries (Germany and Austria) contact Mandie.Bienek (at) press.factory.de
Natasha Binar | TribaSpace
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