Interview with Falke Managing Director Paul Falke
BY SANDY STRASSER
(Published in The Produktkulturmagazin issue 4 2016)
Fashion is driven by our own quest for beauty. The need for people to adorn themselves and to look for, and gradually find, their own style is also the driving force in fashion. Sock manufactory Falke has committed itself to developing stylish fashion for modern people, fashion of the highest quality that strives for perfection. The Falke scene is characterised by polyglot globetrotters, headstrong individualists, inquisitive explorers, fanatical perfectionists, sensitive creative types and incorrigible aesthetes. Their world of images, their domestic culture and their attire are visible expressions of their instinct. And this is precisely where the company feels at home.
Mr Falke, the history of your company stretches back to 1895. It all started back then as a knitting mill. How does it feel to be part of this great history?
It is remarkable that our humble beginnings, making simple knitted goods, formed the basis of what is today an internationally-active enterprise – all achieved through commitment and hard work. For me personally, the long tradition of the company represents an excellent foundation on which we can constantly develop innovations that will also take this great history into the future.
Today, you run the company with your cousin Franz-Peter. Who is responsible for what?
My cousin and I have the responsibility for the entire company. We do not have rigidly-defined roles and we make the decisions together.
Although – in addition to socks and stockings – your brand manufactures knitwear and sports apparel, you still view the former as your core business. What do you find so fascinating about it?
Socks are a fundamental part of our wardrobe. Not only that they can fulfil certain functions, they can also make fashionable statements. No other item of apparel can do this to this extent.
Almost a dozen work steps are required to manufacture an original Falke sock. You still knit the most expensive socks made from cashmere or silk blends on machines that are, in part, 60 years old. What makes these ‘sturdy workhorses’ so essential to production?
In all matters, Falke believes in a balance between tradition and modernity. Methods that have long existed are important. Only on the basis of these can we pursue innovative new paths. This also allows us to translate virtually all our creative ideas into concrete products.
How much craftsmanship is involved in completing a pair of quality socks? What role does the toe of a sock play here?
Craftsmanship is hugely important. The Falke quality can only be maintained with constant controls and monitoring. In addition to these quality controls that are carried out by hand, manual linking is a special quality feature of Falke products. Here, the toe of the sock is closed by hand, ensuring the finest seam possible.
Your core maxim is: striving towards, and delivering, quality for the sake of quality. Each detail deserves to be perfected with expertise and passion. How do you reconcile this tradition-conscious philosophy with advancing digitalisation?
A healthy mix is important here. The know-how from Falke’s 121-year history mixed with state-of-the-art methods offers almost endless possibilities. This enables us to drive developments forward, while nevertheless never losing sight of our core remit – providing the highest quality and discerning design for modern people.
In which areas of production do you employ machines with intelligent software?
Where do you use and also profit from digital technologies?
In this day and age, digitalisation is an important process. Particularly the image of a company changes through digitalisation. Linking offline and online operations is therefore especially important to ensure you remain close to your customers.
What appeal – or entrepreneurial necessity – do you see with regards to the deployment of robots in the future?
It is not without reason that we are known for our manual craftsmanship. This is what distinguishes our quality from that of products from the Far East. Robots cannot replace the work carried out by our employees.
What does ‘Industrie 4.0’ mean for your company?
We are moving with the times, but we never forget the core of our manual craftsmanship.
Despite a prominent online presence, the major department stores continue to be the main source of turnover for your business. 40 percent of this is also achieved outside Germany, above all in Europe. What do you believe are the reasons for this steady, unerring success?
Many products require explanation. Consultation can explain the function of a product and is the only way of informing the customer of the benefits. This is a tremendous advantage vis-à-vis the online business.
What strategy are you pursuing to be able to one day apply this philosophy to the online business?
We use micro-sites to provide background information for products requiring explanation in our online business. And the Falke Newsletter is also aimed at explaining products and unveiling innovations.
At ‘Mr. Porter’, an exclusive online retail destination, Falke socks have long been the only brand labelled as ‘Essentials’. In other words: essential to any man’s wardrobe. How proud are you of this categorisation?
Very. This fulfils our vision: Falke socks have become essential accessories.
Why do you believe all men should wear knee-length socks?
Counter-question: who wants to see a man’s naked legs with welted shoes and a bespoke suit?
Together with his cousin Franz-Peter, Paul Falke has been running the company of the same name – founded by his great-grandfather Franz Falke-Rohen in 1895 – since 1990, the fourth generation of his family to do so. The firm meanwhile has 3,100 employees. The Schmallenberg-based company generates 70 percent of its turnover with socks and fine hosiery. Furthermore, it has also been selling sports apparel since 2005.
Picture credits © FALKE