The production floor measures 300 square meters and a few floor boards squeak beneath Rudolf Loder’s feet. There is a gentle hum in the air, almost like a simple melody. On the ceiling, old wooden discs are spinning, connected with each other by five centimeter wide leather straps. The straps lead to a single transmission engine keeping everything on the floor in motion.
Light shines through the windows and the metal patina of the 31 original circular knitting machines is glowing warmly. There they are – perfectly conserved and functional. The newest one was built in the 60s, the oldest machine stems from 1920.
Almost forgotten by the rest of the world, those gentle giants were patiently waiting for a second chance since the 1960s. Today, they are the beating heart of the production here at “Merz b. Schwanen” – and the pride of owner and textile manufacturer Rudolf Loder. He knows and loves each and every one of these machines.
The Magic of the Circular Knitting Machine
Every machine is fitted with over a thousand needles. In the old days every needle was made by hand. They are assembled in a row, knitting the thread row for row as it spools down. This happens in a gentle and calm, productive atmosphere – feeling many of us wish to have in their job and daily routine.
The machines are reliable, but not perfect. The small irregularities within the fabric are an essential part of the characteristic look and feel of the garments. And since every top is produced without a lateral seam, there is a fitting circular knitting machine for every size.
The unique comfort such a production process provides is evident from the second you first slip into one of the garments.
„We only use high quality bio-cotton, produced by certified European suppliers. All materials are 100 percent natural and thus are very skin- and ecofriendly”, explains the environmentally aware Peter Plotnicki.
At Merz b. Schwanen, all production processes are made in Germany. The sewing is handled by independent manufacturers in the Swabian Alps, the labels are loomed on a traditional Jaquard loom from the 19th century. Even the boxes the shirts come in are produced by a family business following the original designs.
All these authentic production processes turn every single Merz b. Schwanen garment into something really special – full of passion and appreciation from every man and woman involved.
„It is the longstanding experience and careful production, the palpable and visible quality that turn Merz b. Schwanen into a precious, unique original”, say Rudolf Loder and Peter Plotnicki
Textile History of the Swabian Alp
In the rough climate of the Swabian Alps, survival was more and more difficult for the farmers of the 19th century. The barren soil was exhausted, farming did not return profit or even ensured survival any more – poverty and famine were soon to follow.
The Swabians are famous for their diligence and switched to sheep farming. Even on the remote mountain ranges the animals could generate some revenues in the form of wool. With this wool, the farmers knitted socks to earn a little extra. This additional income was the base of the upcoming textile industry starting in 1850.
From Poverty to a rich Textile Business
The government had handed out manual knitting machines to the farmers in order to secure their survival. In 1798 the circular knitting machine was invented. In 1836 it was introduced to the Swabian Alps and the golden age of textile production began.
In the following years, the Swabian garments made from imported cotton were a huge commercial success. Especially the comfortable and skin to the skin underwear was far superior to wool and linen products.
1911 Balthasar Merz founded his clothes manufactory „Merz b. Schwanen“ in Albstadt. It was destined to be a successful company for many generations.
After several decades of economic growth, the textile industry was holding a virtual monopoly in the region. However, in the 1970s it was cast into a severe structural crisis. The competition from Eastern Europe and Asia was able to offer cheaper and cheaper clothing, so that the downfall of the small family businesses in the Swabian Alps was inevitable. Merz b. Schwanen managed to hold its own until 2008, but had to close down eventually.
Rudolf Loder, Gitta and Peter Plotnicki made their vision a reality by reviving the traditional brand Merz b. Schwanen in 2011. They are allowed to offer their creations under this prestigious name – with explicit support of the descendants of Balthasar Merz himself.