Four Generations Hepco — The Story of a Special Manufactory
Hepco – thats 100 years full of rise & fall, innovation and re-inventions. Already 140 years ago, the parents of Carl Hepcting lead a tannery, in which young Carl discovered his love to leathercraft.
Fate Follows Coincidence
Nah, no heroic entrance here. It is even pure coincidence that the Carl Hepting Manufactory was founded on March 1st, 1922. Carl helped a casual acquaintance and drove him from Prague to Asperg. It turned out that this guy was a big player in the “floor mat industry” – and BOOM, there went the very first order: The leather flooring for the brand new city trams of Stuttgart. Honestly, this doesn’t sound too fashionable yet, right? Wait for it ☕😌
International From The Start
If someone had to describe Hepco with just one word, it would be international, and that is not because being international sounds buzzy and vogue. From 1920 on, Carl Hepting was travelling between Asia and Africa, Scandinavia and the Balkans. Out of 12 months – so they said – he was at least 9 travelling for business. And Carl was a busy bee, very, veery lively. Contacts from his odysseys proved to be the basis for a company producing belts for the world, right from the start.
Hepco And The Belt
– Love At First Sight 👀
Unsurprisingly, Hepco’s first bestseller, even for the 1920s, had to be odd: A leather belt for colonies??
However, it worked out surprisingley well. So surprising, that the Hepco Company literally exploded:
In just two years, one employee became one hundred, and in the mid-20s, Hepco’s export accounted for 85% of the total German belt industry. So much for the topic international.?
The export share of Hepco was responsible for the fact that the company, in contrast to the rest of the industry, continued to grow throughout the turmoil of the 1920s.
✨Paris Here We Come✨
Meanwhile Carl Hepting founded Ceintures Modernes, Hepco’s French sister. With Ceintures Modernes, Hepco took the step to the “city suitcases”, became second mainstay for a long time. (Note: A German-French company called “modern belt” sold just Parisians “city suitcase”?? At that time was really anything goes?)
The Jordanian Royal House …… were special customers with special wishes.
The Arabian Royal Family …
King and Tsar of Bulgaria …
Kudos to Leopold II and Ferdinand I. at this point!?
Hepco during World War II
No later than the mid-30s, the playful time was over. From the start, Hepco got in the focus of nazi rearmament organizations. At the outbreak of WWII production had to be switched to war mode. The number of employees grew over 1200 until 1941. In ’43 the nazis confiscated almost the entire Hepco areal. Bombs over belts… we all know what this leads to. For Hepco remained only a few small, adjoining rooms. Nevertheless, Hepting and his friends tried to civil production for as long as possible. Finally, in 1944, the majority of the large manufactory areal was lavishly destroyed:
Rise, Decline, Reinvention
— A returning pattern in Hepcos industrial history
Just after the end of the war in July 1945, production for the occupiying powers began again with a few hundred workers. They knew that the Marbachers produced well crafted goods. And hey, it wouldn’t have been Hepco if it hadn’t managed again to divert some of its manufacturing to civilian needs.
😡 1946: The OUTRAGE 😡
After the Second World War, a lot of opportunities arose, one just had to be attentive enough. Hepco recognized that the photographic industry was one of those opportunities, and with Hepco was already producing compact camera bags in the forties, like the one shown in this picture. In the center is a shot of hundreds of employees making these camera bags.
For a whole world war, HEPCO managed to evade unwanted attention . Then it took exactly one year, until it made rich headlines: How could the Germans, after the most devastating war of all time, in 1946, export high-quality goods again??
At least this question arose or the Allies. Especially in Great Britain, the first post-war export catalogue of HEPCO in 1946 caused a stir. It showed leather cases, briefcases, college folders, leather handbags, and also the belts, which had been produced again after a long time, but in 1946, in the eyes of the British, they really could have been much shorter.
🚀Hepco rises — an Economic Miracle🚀
Congrats, you actually read really far!✨. Your historical interest is so great, that we would like to chat with you longer. Come to our manufactory in Marbach and say the codeword: HISTORY’N’STUFF. We will brew you a coffe and show you everything from and about HEPCO ❤ .
After the end of the Second World War, Hepco stood with nothing. Moving forward was the only option. To make it short:
…nothing but a huge pile of dreams.
…at the first post-war foreign fair in Basel, Switzerland
… toNew York for the first post-war fair for German companies on American soil.
Funfact: Hepco is a co-founder of “ILM Offenbach”, the oldest fair for leather goods of Germany.
When the leather goods industry finally moved from Frankfurt to Offenbach, Hepco became a co-founder of the ‘International Leather Goods Fair Offenbach’. To this date, we are one of the oldest, still extisting exhibitor!
🛣 50s & 60s: In the fast lane 🛣
Back to the topic. As you now know, in the world of fashion belts have long been played a minor role. That changed tremendously in the 50s ….
What did Hepco do??
HEPCO quickly surprised the industry of an entire continent with an exhibition car, which transported the whole HEPCO program through Europe as a moving sample room. Just imagine one of those friendly busses showed up at your place, could you even dare to resist? 😉
Oh la la: HEPCO-FRANCE was founded in the early sixties. We were back in Paris and stepped in the French fashion world again.??
? The 70s: Belts for the entire world ?
In the 70s, HEPCO reached its greatest extent. The former manufactory has become an international company producing tens of thousands of articles every day for the world market. In 1973 the most modern suitcase factory of its time was completed in Pfullingen. Every day, up to 5000 suitcases and 1000 leather bags came off the line – that was over one million leather cases per year. Concerning the belts, we speak of about 50,000 models per day.
From the belt to the travel bag, complete travel sets were offered.
At the end of the seventies, the tide turned (as we say here in Germany): outsourcing, fashion companies and international price dumping made budgeting increasingly difficult for HEPCO.
Increasingly, it became clear: The former strength, HEPCO’s export focus turned into a cost trap, because HEPCO, as a major producer, could no longer keep up with the conditions of a world market.
We missed the take-off. The German clothing industry became a first victim of globalization and we were not spared. The first bankruptcy at the end of the 80s was followed by a second and last one in 2002.
The suit case division was sold.
From the bottom to the top and back,
the end seemed sealed.
? The Restart?
Anyone believing a tiny catastrophe could make Hepco disappear, knows little about the Marbachs tick . One group of Hepco employees (we?) bought the belt production out of bankruptcy and continued – small, realistic and traditional after all, yet focussing on evolving the idea of that a ‘genuine belt’ can be.
From a manufactory to a global player and back to a manufactory.
Enough history, let’s finally craft belts after all!