Whether it’s T-shirts, sweaters or accessories, designers and artists from Bonn are very trendy right now. People are increasingly attached to their hometowns and regions during the crisis. So it’s good times for local products but the pandemic still throws a wrench into sales.
One's own hometown becomes a motif. Textiles by local designers are in demand and sometimes feature regional motifs - “Bönnscher” lettering, for example or the Cologne Cathedral. Other images are thought-provoking, speaking out against plastic waste or in favor of protecting wildlife species. Manufacturers and retailers often advertise that their products are ecologically sound and ethically made.
They cater to the spirit of the times. Demand for fairly and ecologically produced clothing has been rising in Germany for years. According to the Transfair association, the number of fairly or ethically produced textiles in this country rose from 2.6 million items in 2012 to 22.2 million in 2019. The Cologne-based BTE Handelsverband Textil (German Textile Trade Association) estimates that sales of local fashion products have developed at an above-average rate in recent years. But there are currently no concrete figures on this. According to a recent survey by management consultants AlixPartners, one third of consumers plan to place greater emphasis on sustainability when making purchases after the pandemic. But the coronavirus crisis is both a blessing and a curse for manufacturers and retailers. It fuels demand, but at the same time restricts trade.
Customers are missing the shopping experience
Andrew Triebes, owner of "Love Your Local Store" in Bonn's Old Town, who sells not only clothing but also jewelry and all kinds of accessories, is feeling the impact. He has been selling products from local designers and artists for ten years. But the pandemic has seen his business plummet. Through his online store, Triebes records ten orders on good days; on bad days, it's one at most. His impression from customer conversations and social media posts is that interest in buying his products has increased, but customers are missing the in-store buying experience. "We thrive on people being able to touch and look at things, and the decision to buy is often spontaneous and unconscious," says Triebes. In addition, small local retailers cannot compete with the large companies when it comes to online retailing. While demand is falling, supply is rising. Since the pandemic, Triebes has received more inquiries from artists in the region. The owner of "kiss the innuit" Katharina Partyka sells sustainable fashion in two stores in Cologne and Bonn. One item she sells is the Cologne sweater, which is made from recycled jeans. She reports a similar story: "We feel the solidarity as a local business very clearly, but corona is causing us big setbacks.”
Local products as a counterpoint to global production chains
The decline in sales is also being felt by Bonn-based designer Daniel Bandholz, whose products are on display at the Local Store in the Old Town as well - including T-shirts and accessories with "Bonn" written in a speech bubble. The "B" is in the shape of a heart. Many of his motifs are socially critical. Bandholz donates a portion of proceeds to the reforestation of the rainforest on Borneo. The 33-year-old prints the fair-trade T-shirts himself. He started out doing this in his own apartment, but now uses his mother's workshop. As a designer with a permanent job, he runs this business on the side. "My customers like it when the ecological footprint is small," he says. His target group is also small, he says, but the potential for local products is large: "Globalization makes people grow together in their city, and corona contributes to that.”
This is a development that business psychologist Britta Krahn from Bonn-Rhein-Sieg University of Applied Sciences also sees. "Local products are an antithesis to the unfettered production chains of the global market economy, which are based on the division of labor and have a tendency towards outsourcing," she says. Their problems for people and the environment are well known. Local brands, on the other hand, stand for credibility, sustainability and proximity. "In the case of fashion, this comes across particularly strongly to the target group addressed, because the emotional attachment is higher with such products than with hygiene products, for example." But Krahn warns against possible label fraud: "The origin of a product has no registered trademark and there is no labeling obligation for it." Consumers simply have to be mindful.
"When you see the Post Tower, you're home"
For manufacturers and retailers, on the other hand, good marketing is all the more important. Jonathan John relies primarily on Instagram and Tiktok for this purpose. His "Boennsch Life" brand thrives on the fact that the 38-year-old works with local influencers. They each have up to 230,000 followers. He provides designs for them, and they in turn advertise his brand. His ghetto sweaters are particularly in demand, based on a well-known motif: "Bronx Harlem Queens Tannenbusch" reads one lettering. "The sweater has gone through the roof on social media," Johan says happily. There are also slogans like this for other districts in Bonn. One pink sweater says "Schälsickgirl," while others read "Null Zwei Zwei Acht”, alluding to Bonn's area code.
The pandemic also plays a decisive role for John. When the waiter had to live on 760 euros in short-time work compensation, he decided to put all his eggs in one basket. "That's when I really panicked and decided to stand on my own two feet." In the future, he plans to have his products printed locally in Alfter. Previously, he had ordered his goods from so-called "print-on-demand" providers online. However, he is still far from being able to make a living from it; so far, he earns between 200 and 300 euros from sales. Why do people buy his products? "Because they love Bonn," says John. "When you drive over the Südbrücke and you see the Post Tower, you're home," he says.
The trend toward more regionality has been around for years, says business psychologist Britta Krahn. "The pandemic is acting as an accelerator in this." The climate and corona crises are seen as crises of globalization. In addition, there are unprecedented bottlenecks - for example, in pharmaceuticals and electronics manufactured in the Far East. "In contrast, consumers perceive that they can rely on their own region, and regional products are trusted more," Krahn says. That's why she thinks it's likely that the pandemic will also have a longer-term impact on consumer behavior. Triebes is also hoping for this in his store in Bonn's Old Town. "People are becoming more interested in living sustainably and consciously," he says. "We're getting a lot of encouragement on social media during the crisis. Hopefully, after corona, that will have an effect on shopping.”
(Orig. text: Andreas Dyck; Translation: ck)