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Producing the finest knits

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When it comes to undergarments, the Schiesser brand is synonymous with quality and attention to detail. “No company can lead the market for as long as Schiesser without sticking to a few core principles while moving with the times as well,” says Board Member Eugen Bohl. “The reason why Pleas has proved so enduring is that it shares those same values.”

High on the list is sustainability. While the world’s attention is currently focused on the plastics industry as the incarnation of a wasteful economy and cause of environmental crisis, it is surely only a matter of time before the textile industry lands in the crosshairs.

The wastefulness of low cost, fast fashion is largely to blame but the whole industry needs to re-examine its business model. “With the help of Schiesser’s parent company, Delta Galil Industries in Israel, we are starting a new project aimed at improving sustainability and reducing waste,” describes Mr. Bohl. “We are targeting offcuts from the production process and recycling these to make new yarn that can be fed back into the production cycle. We started the project in February so it is a little early to evaluate its impact but we hope to significantly reduce waste.”

One of the beneficial side effects of efforts to reduce waste or raw material consumption in the name of sustainability is often that it also helps to reduce costs. By investing in its production machinery in recent years, Pleas has succeeded in reducing its consumption of water and chemicals by half.

“We have completely replaced our heating boilers and last year we installed LED lights throughout the factory,” says Mr. Bohl. “These measures help us to improve efficiency and go some way towards compensating for increases in material and wage costs while simultaneously reducing our environmental footprint.”

Eugen Bohl
With the help of Schiesser’s parent company, Delta Galil Industries in Israel, we are starting a new project aimed at improving sustainability and reducing waste. Eugen BohlMember of the Board

This is an important consideration for a household name like Schiesser, which enjoys the trust and loyalty of its customers. Pleas makes underwear, lounge wear and nightwear for men, women and children for Schiesser and has seen the market for basics grow steadily in recent years.

“People appreciate comfort and fit when they are choosing clothing that will be worn next to the skin,” says Mr. Bohl. “Schiesser has always prioritized these two qualities and still managed to combine them with good design.” To help it achieve these three goals, from 2000 onwards, Pleas has focused on vertical integration of its production chain. It now covers the entire production process from the raw yarn to the packaged finished article.

“We have 150 modern knitting machines, our own dyeing department as well as fabric treatment. The finishing cloth is then sent to the cutting and sewing department where we can also add embroidery or other embellishments before the finished garment is packaged for delivery.”

The entire process is subject to ongoing quality checks. “We are linked to our parent company in Radolfzell on Lake Constance via an ERP system that was introduced ten years ago and upgraded this year,” explains Mr. Bohl. “We can see all of the data for each consignment and can follow the supply chain all the way back to the yarn used. This means we can identify the source of any quality problems and move to correct them. We can also react quickly to requests from our parent company for special orders or small production runs.”

In 2005, Pleas took back control of its own branded underwear in-house. Today, around 10% of the Czech subsidiary’s annual turnover comes from domestic sales of own-branded garments, which benefit from the company’s historic significance in the Czech market.

The Pleas brand was first registered in 1940, although the company can trace its history back to 1873 and its establishment by Josef Mahler. In the years that followed, the company flourished as a producer of knitted stockings and tights made from cotton and nylon.

Under communism, it was taken into state ownership and continued to grow, becoming the largest textile company in what was then Czechoslovakia. After the fall of communism, the company successfully negotiated the transition to private ownership and is now well-established in a competitive market.

“We work very hard to keep production here, despite stiff competition from suppliers in the Far East,” says Mr. Bohl. “Although a lot of clothing manufacturers have moved production to India or China, Schiesser still stresses that its garments are made in Europe and benefits from the shorter supply chain that this ensures.”

Pleas currently manufactures around 14.5 million individual pieces each year but has capacity to spare. “We have production reserves and could make more, but the amount we produce depends on what is ordered by our parent company,” says Mr. Bohl. “Our priorities for the moment are securing our future by consolidating our current position and ensuring our competitiveness.”

Finding suitable employees is one of the biggest challenges the Czech manufacturing sector faces in the pursuit of these goals. “We are in competition with the electronic and automotive sectors when it comes to the pool of recruits from which we wish to recruit,” illustrates Mr. Bohl. “Education and vocational training have changed to such an extent that we can’t simply advertise for qualified machine operators and expect them to line up at our door, we have to take on school leavers and train them ourselves. This is,  of course, a much greater investment but one that we cannot afford to dismiss. That is why, together with investment in machinery and equipment, we also invest in recruitment events and apprenticeship schemes. It is people who will make our vision for the company a reality.”

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