Norbert Hinderberger, a longtime denim insider and agent, retired at the end of 2021. This highly professional and expert agent and sales consultant has decided to retire at the age of 70, after 42 two years spent immersed in the blue sea of the international denim industry.
Hinderberger began his denim career in 1980 as sales & marketing director at Lauffenmühle. After that first experience, he moved on and became a sales consultant, working with Turkish denim mill Orta Anadolu for 22 years as its representative working across Europe for international key accounts.
With the announcement of Hinderberger's retirement, a new sales manager will work as Candiani’s sales manager for the DACH countries, Alexander Kernlinger. He is also an expert of the denim market, as he previously worked as sales manager for Levi’s XX, and introduced Levi’s premium lines to the German-speaking market. He was also sales director of the Bread & Butter Berlin trade show, bringing his passion and help to grow some of its denim-driven projects such as Denim Hall, Tempel of Denim, L.O.C.K., and Fire Dept. He also helped other brands expand their denim programs including Herrlicher, K.O.I Kings of Indigo, Lee, Wrangler, while he also consulted for the Selvedge Run trade show and focused on sustainability-driven projects like, for instance, F-Abric by Freitag and the Greentech Festival.
What made you make the decision to retire?
I am 70 and although I don’t show my age, I am very energetic, perfectly fine and still enthusiastic about denim, I didn’t want to become too old while still working. Unfortunately, the pandemic has somehow triggered my decision as I like to spend time with people, meeting them in person and showing them the product while holding it in my hand. Instead, for almost two years I mostly did work meetings via Zoom and via digital, and that sped up my desire to step down.
Tell us about your experience.
As a textile engineer with an expertise in business economics I wanted to work for a German company and started working for Lauffenmühle, a company to some extent similar–though smaller and not as influential as Legler–as it focused on producing corduroys, flat fabrics and denims. From that moment on I discovered denim, a world still unknown to many. At that time I worked with what they called “The Big Three”–Levi’s Lee and Wrangler–that counted for 50% of the market.
How did you start working for Candiani?
As quite some changes had happened at Orta and most of its management had changed practically entirely, I also started looking around. As I was in a “friendly competitor” relationship with Gianluigi Candiani, I asked him if I could work for them, taking care of the German market for them. He was really excited as I could help their company broaden their presence in the market, but he simply told me he wanted to speak about it with his son Alberto… The following day, I received a phone call from him telling me they wanted me on board.
What was your aim there?
I started building a high customer base for the premium market - an ambitious target considering that the German market includes many vertical companies… But I succeeded as I explained to the top clients all the properties and qualities of the Candiani fabrics.
What was the best part of your 42 years of career?
There is so much I could name…so many anecdotes and facts, but what I like best of my work is the experience with people. I like the people and they realize it. Through these years, I could build a great network of people, including people I made business with. In fact, I am still in touch with many of them and find time to meet them…among them there are top managers like, for instance, John Anderson, former president of Levi’s in San Francisco…
What did you learn from your work?
My job was actually to find the needs of the customer and offer the product fitting their need…
In reality, in this industry no one ever created completely new fabrics, but it’s more like an open source industry as everyone looks at what others are doing and develops a new aspect of that… Plus, every company has an own specific ability. Orta, for instance, has been very strong in offering very beautiful vintage denim effects. Candiani develops extraordinary taste stretch fabrics, truly premium ones, even higher level now as also focused on sustainability.
In the German market, for instance, there were many companies always looking for very lightweight stretch fabrics like the 7oz, 8oz and 9oz. My job was that of finding opportunities, offering those clients the right premium stretch fabric and establish the right partnership with them in order to solve their problem. For this we did great partnerships with Hugo Boss and Levi’s, among others. I was really instrumental in this task.
Will you work on other collaborations eventually?
I will keep in touch with the market. I will continue to follow it and will not leave it entirely, but for sure I will keep slower rhythms.
How will the market evolve according to your experience?
I see two main aspects. On the one side the market should start taking a more exclusive, highly creative and passionate love for quality direction–which is the opposite of what is happening now as everything has become a commodity, like, for instance, fast fashion that ends up in landfill pretty soon. I think we shall all discover again the great soul of the product. For this reason, the industry should focus on fewer products and better quality.
And what about the other aspect?
Unfortunately, the mainstream is not ready for this yet. Most of the players in the industry follow the mantra “take, make and waste”–which is terrible. Only a few people are on the right track. The change might happen, though it will take time as it requires culture. If you think of jeans that cost €8 or €10, that’s the opposite of what it should be. If I look in my closet I have 100 pairs of jeans, but I mostly wear ten and these ten are truly beautiful. I want to wear them as long as possible and once they are worn out they still can be used as they can be recycled into new ones.