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Annette Roeckl has been managing the German family-owned and traditional company Roeckl since 2003. She has successively expanded the glove brand from Munich into an accessories label. Roeckl has also recently become a member of the Fashion Council Germany. A conversation about the balancing act between tradition and modernity, women in leadership positions and the status quo of German fashion.
FCG: Ms Roeckl. It is said that you, of all people, did not wear gloves as a teenager out of principle. Why?
Annette Röckl: That's how it is with young people: For me, it was very important to initially distance myself from the family business and to find my own point of view. In the meantime, I have developed my own approach: I see gloves as a great handicraft product with an exciting tradition - and on top of that they have a great significance in secular as well as ecclesiastical history. Besides the eyes, the hand is of particular importance in communicative expression.
FCG: Today you don't even go for an espresso at Roecklplatz, named after your family, without gloves.
Annette Röckl: Never! Depending on the mood of the day, I now wear red, pink, lined gloves or a light model in summer. And a scarf and a bag to go with it - we've built up a whole product world of accessories in the meantime.
FCG: You have been running the family business in the 6th generation since 2003. This year Roeckl celebrates its 180th anniversary. How do you manage the balancing act between tradition and the future?
Annette Röckl: That is precisely the challenge. Our credo is to transfer what is valuable, good and authentic, which is anchored in the core of the brand, into the future. To do this, we have to keep asking ourselves the questions: What is actually worth preserving? What is our common thread? For us, this clearly means maintaining high quality and customer satisfaction. This is also a clear commitment to our employees and partners. In the past, Roeckl was a royal supplier to the Bavarian court, and Empress Sissi also wore our gloves. You can't achieve something like that without a high standard.
FCG: Speaking of Sissi: Who wears Roeckl products today?
Annette Röckl: The same customers who also treat themselves to Roeckl handbags and scarves - for whom durability is important and who allow our staff to explain the products to them calmly so that they can go home with a favourite piece. At Roeckl, the price-performance ratio is right. Our products still look like new after ten or even twenty years. They last for several generations.
FCG: How can this still be ensured?
Annette Röckl: The preservation of traditional craftsmanship is a task that is currently occupying many brands. In addition to our glove manufacture, we opened our own bag manufacture in 2010, and excellent craftsmen work in our production facilities in Romania.
FCG: Today, transparent production is something that customers are also asking for.
Annette Röckl: Today, the customer himself has a completely different awareness, also with regard to the regionality of products. This is another reason why we now train in Germany. Know-how is the key. In order to continue to strengthen our product expertise, we are currently revising our entire workshop concept in Munich.
FCG: A step towards modernisation.
Annette Röckl: Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the passing on of embers - when I took over the management in 2003, this was a key phrase for me. It is very important not to sink into rigidity. The world ticks very differently today, of course. That's why we're relying heavily on digitalization, both in communication and in corporate structures.
FCG: As a woman at the top of the company, did you find it more difficult at the beginning?
Annette Röckl: Interestingly, I haven't heard any problems reflected from the internal viewpoint of the employees, but I have from external business partners. Why is there a woman, and such a young one at that? There were a lot of unspoken, unambiguous question marks, for example on the part of bankers or insurance brokers. I tried to ignore that, but in the beginning I was often unsure myself. Unfortunately, we still live in a patriarchal society, the legacy is in all of us. That also does something to a woman's self-image.
FCG: How did you overcome the uncertainty?
Annette Röckl: Confidence comes with experience. The important thing is to believe in yourself. At some point, gender is no longer an issue. What counts is personality and the ability to take responsibility.
FCG: Would you say that you have a different leadership style as a woman?
Annette Röckl: I think so. I probably act a bit more cooperatively and collaboratively.
FCG: Apart from you, what is the situation at Roeckl with women in management positions?
Annette Röckl: We are way ahead in this respect, 80-90 percent of the management positions are held by women, both in the boutiques and in the management of our manufactories. The head office has become more female in recent years. Women traditionally work in retail, as well as in the fashion industry in general, and they are simply capable. We are happy to continue on the path to success, and I really enjoy working with women in management. In general, I feel that diverse teams of young and old, longstanding and new employees, and women and men are the ideal.
FCG: In 2017, Roeckl had a serious crisis - fortunately, the specially filed insolvency was averted.
Annette Röckl: We withdrew the application for insolvency in self-administration at the time because we very quickly developed a solution within the family. The cohesion is certainly stronger in a family business than in a large holding company.
FCG: The warm winters were also to blame. Their sales used to be recognized by the weather curve. And today?
Annette Röckl: Although we position ourselves as an accessories brand today, the focus is still on our origins, the glove. A cold winter can be a season that determines sales. Russia is therefore also an important market where we invest a lot.
FCG: Are you generally focusing more on foreign business at the moment?
Annette Röckl: After we had to close some branches during the crisis, we can and want to expand again in DACH. We are still the market leader here.
FCG: As a traditional German company, how do you actually rate Germany as a fashion nation?
Annette Röckl: Germany stands primarily for industry and technology, for precision and engineering - and not for fashion. You have to leave things in the village. Nevertheless, there is a power in fashion design that has not been explored enough for a long time. We have outstanding creative pots and hidden champions in fashion as well.
FCG: That sums it up quite well. The Fashion Council Germany has set itself the task of increasing the visibility of fashion made in Germany and promoting young talent. Roeckl has also recently become a member of the Fashion Council.
Annette Röckl: I think it's an institution worthy of support because it helps to give German fashion a greater voice, a better platform and increased perception - which it deserves. There are outstanding collections that no one sees. Networking is becoming more important than ever. If we can join forces, the incredible fashion power will push Germany further ahead. You can see this in countries like Italy and France, where fashion chambers have a long tradition. The tailwind for German fashion is a great opportunity. I am looking forward to it.