A woman picking up the thread of her ancestors

A woman picking up the thread of her ancestors

By Romano Paganini

Little humility is reflected in the opening words of the Manomama website: "We create values." And a little further down: “That only works if we go beyond the borders of our production site. That is why we produce radically regionally. "

Radically regional

There are few people who express themselves with such determination, to reactivate an economic sector that has dried up for decades. Or better: outsourced. Outsourcing costs in the east, in the Czech Republic, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria or directly to Asia. Sina Trinkwalder, founder of Augsburg's Manomama clothing factory, says the same. Its threads for weaving and embroidery come from Nord-Rhein-Westfalen (1), hemp from Taubertal (2) and the wool for fabrics from Augsburg itself. And even for the packaging he found a product that comes from the region: his jeans, blouses or skirts are wrapped in potato bags from a nearby farmer.

-A product is only sustainable if the value chain remains in the region, says the businesswoman. Only rain-irrigated cotton that cannot be planted in Germany because of the weather comes from Turkey or Tansania (Africa).

With this concept Manomama contradicts the stereotypes of economists, bankers and colleagues in the textile industry. They have become accustomed - like many consumers - to the fact that the fabric and clothes that are bought in Germany come from afar. That it be produced, manufactured and wrapped far and wide and that the only task that remains for companies here is transport, import and sale in the European market. How far we are today from those who make the products with which we cover our bodies highlights the million-dollar question about how many times around the globe has a jeans passed before reaching the supermarket sale? The answer (3) is found both in popular lore and in the awareness that your own clothes are often dyed, cut and cooked by children's hands.

A grim and distant reality that made Sina Trinkwalder act locally.

Sad everyday life in Augsburg

Sina Trinkwalder comes from a family of entrepreneurs and worked for many years in marketing. She is the mother of a twelve-year-old son, and with the advertising agency she founded with her husband at the time, she had earned enough money to buy expensive cars and luxurious watches.

But Sina, who at that time turned thirty years old, did not want to. She not only did not like the treatment in the field where she worked, she also saw everyday life in Augsburg, the place where she grew up since she was a teenager: abandoned industrial buildings, people waiting in front of the unemployment ministry, refugees without work.

-I saw that the situation was getting worse year after year and that we ran the risk that society would fall apart, he says. Bavaria is the richest province in Germany, but Augsburg is considered the poorest city within it.

-It was clear that he wanted to help people, she says. But he still didn't know how.

With cotton went the industry

I write the year 2010. In Greece the people go to the streets against the tax adjustments by the European Union, in Stuttgart they do the same for a gigantic train project (4) and in Augsburg they open the museum of the textile industry (TIM) . Behind the showcases are now displayed the machines and apparatus that were characteristic of the place and gave the city prestige, since the Middle Ages as the European capital of textile production. It was only in the mid-nineteenth century, when local wool and linen were replaced by cotton and silk from other continents, did economic change begin. It was fueled by developments after World War II, when the industry began to "outsource its cost" step by step. During this process, which lasted until the 1980s, the German textile industry lost more than 400'000 jobs. The main reason: the costs, both of the materials, of the machinery and the place, and above all for the labor. Because the rights of the worker with fixed hours and minimum wages are diluted much easier if the people who put the body live far from where decisions are made.

Today only five percent of textiles in Germany come from their own production. Some of them come out of Manomama.

Back to the roots

During the phone chat Sina Trinkwalder stacks her folders, tidies up papers, and cleans her desk.

-It's like a pigsty here, he laughs, if you don't clean yourself from time to time you can't think straight. Every so often someone knocks on her office door, Sina apologizes, and returns a few moments later to the phone.

-This is how we organize our work meetings: unemployed, speaking little but the essentials.

You can see that the 39-year-old woman has accumulated disappointment and frustration during the years working in advertising, with work meetings where everyone spoke without saying anything. That is also why she founded Manomama: To make sense of herself. He wanted people with diverse abilities to work on his team, he thought of a company with a diversified value chain. When he heard about the opening of TIM, he made his decision there: he wanted to revive the industry that has the most roots in the city.

Learn to sew on your own

The search for raw materials and local factories was very easy. Instead finding someone who knows, for example, thresh hemp, comb it, remove the wood, cook it and finally put it in a spinning machine, that was more difficult. With outsourcing to the East, not only jobs and awareness of where clothes come from disappeared, but also the knowledge of how to produce them.

In the end Sina Trinkwalder found them the same, the tanners, weavers and knitters of the region. He also met with cookers and cloth producers, with cultural historians and peasants who explained everything there was to know to start a textile production from scratch. Some had tears in their eyes. Years or decades ago, someone interested in their crafts was not going.

Then Sina Trinkwalder bought a sewing machine and went to work. I wanted to know and understand from A to Z, what a dress consists of, how the fabric is dyed, how it is cut, how it is sewn. And finally he invested his savings: first in fabrics and twine, then in place and machines and a couple of months later in employees, the same people who in other places were considered "out of the labor market", so fallen from the social fabric that They didn't even appear in the labor ministry statistics.

Ten to twelve Euros per hour

Now the media began to take an interest in Sina Trinkwalder and her venture. They invited her to talkshows, spoke on radios and responded to journalists who came from all over Germany to see her in Augsburg. The tenor was clear: finally there is again a businesswoman who not only has a relationship with her employees and with what they do with their hands, but who tries to live an ethic in the day-to-day.

Today almost 150 people work at Manomama, all on permanent contracts: garment makers, dressmakers, cutters, weavers, cadets. They are mostly single mothers, long-term unemployed, near-retired, and people with disabilities or who were born elsewhere. Sina Trinkwalder pays them a monthly salary of 10 to 12 Euros per hour, which is within the German average. Due to the diverse realities that exist within Manomama, employees can set their work schedules according to their needs, between 6 and 22 hours the doors of the factory are open.

His environment told him from the beginning to let himself be screwed with the socially excluded and to buy a Mansion. Also the impact of other textile production entrepreneurs to network in the region was less than Sina Trinkwalder expected.

Instead, she says a little annoyed, they called me social workers and newly received students who wanted to do something with textiles. That's not that easy, she says. Furthermore, we are not a social workshop that receives money from the State. We are a company.

"Entrepreneurs have a responsibility"

The attempt to revive the textile industry with freshness and integrate people who live on the periphery of society, left its mark on the body of Sina Trinkwalder. For a long time she suffered from zoster and lack of sleep. At the time he worked twenty hours a day.

-But I already learned to take care of myself, he says, because otherwise they won't give you a chance at the market.

Courage, sustainability, solidarity, slowdown - those are the values ​​that Sina Trinkwalder wants to create.

-I am not a benefactor, who donates a little money to calm my bad conscience, highlights. As a businesswoman, you consider that you have a certain responsibility within society, that is obvious. And if we reach a critical point, we have to put the chest and continue.

You have to do miracles on your own, is the title of the book he wrote four years ago. Manomama, a miracle?

-A miracle is something that seems impossible to achieve, he says laughing. For mainstream economists Manomama appears to be a miracle.

The text is part of the book "Hands of the transition - Stories to empower ourselves" to be published this year.

(1) Bundesland (Province) in Germany
(2) Valley between Nuremberg and Frankfurt
(3) It's two times around the world
(4) The demonstrations in Stuttgart were against the Stuttgart 21 project that wants to replace the current train station with an underground one. It also involves the construction of new tunnels and the connection to the trans-European train network. Neighbors, affected by the work that lasts ten years, and several environmental organizations called thousands of people in 2010 to express their disagreement with the project. One of the main reasons was the cutting of more than 280 large trees, some of them were around 200 years old.