Wooly Business

Keeping Warm, the Norwegian Way

  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    The outdoor clothing manufacturer Devold, one of Norway’s most traditional brands, is expanding in Germany.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Devold of Norway was established in 1853 by the Norwegian textile engineer Ole Andreas Devold.
    • The company employs a total of 330 people; 30 at its headquarters in Langevåg in western Norway, and 300 at its factory in Lithuania.
    • Herbert Horelt, previously at Swedish outdoor brand Haglöfs, has been brought in to manage the German business.
  • Audio

    Audio

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Chief Executive Cathrine Stange has transformed Devold's fortunes since taking the helm two years ago. Source: Devold of Norway

The 19th century was the grand era of tinkerers. In the United States, Thomas Edison invented the incandescent lightbulb. In Berlin, Werner von Siemens laid the foundations for his industrial empire when he came up with the electric pointer telegraph. What Mr. Edison was for the U.S. and Mr. Siemens was for Germany, the textile engineer Ole Andreas Devold was for Norway. “A visionary,” explains Cathrine Stange.

Ms. Stange is the current chief executive of “Devold of Norway.” That makes her something of a guardian of national heritage. Wearing Mr. Devold’s woolen undergarments, the Norwegian Fridtjof Nansen crossed Greenland in 1888. Some two decades later, Roald Amundsen, warmed by the company’s weather-resistant clothing, reached the South Pole. No wonder the label can be found in almost every wardrobe from Oslo to Tromsø.

Devold sells three-quarters of its sweaters, jackets and thermal wear in its home market. But the 164-year-old family firm is barely represented in Germany. Ms. Stange, who used to work for the Norwegian merchandising group Reitan, is looking to change that. “We want strong growth,” she says.

For that reason, Devold is setting up a sales and distribution network in Germany, to be headed by the experienced manager Herbert Horelt. Most recently Mr. Horelt oversaw the German business of Swedish outdoor brand Haglöfs.

Ms. Stange is confident: “Scandinavia has a good reputation in Germany. Devold will be viewed positively here right from the start.” Industry experts share that assessment. “Consumers will find trust in the brand’s Norwegian roots and long tradition,” said Philipp Prechtl from the consulting firm Dr. Wieselhuber & Partners.

Ms. Stange, a keen cross-country skier, has brought Devold out of the red and into the black.

Traditional Norwegian sweaters made from domestic wool now only form a small part of the Devold collection. The company has branched into lifestyle products made of merino wool, which comes from sheep in Australia and New Zealand. But competition in this segment is tough. “Icebreaker and Ortovox already have a hold on this area,” Mr. Prechtl said.

Until 1989, the company belonged to Mr. Devold’s descendants. After they ran the business to the ground, the Norwegian industrialist Knut Flakk got involved. He continues to own the company today and recruited Ms. Stange, a passionate cross-country skier, two years ago. It was a good decision.

She has brought Devold out of the red and into the black. The company, which doesn’t publish any sales or earnings figures, has 30 people working at its headquarters in Langevåg, nestled among the fjords of western Norway. A further 300 employees are based at Devold’s own factory in Lithuania, where they knit, cut and sew by hand.

This is unusual. Most rival manufacturers have their production operations in the east. But as Ms. Stange explains, “Made by us” has always been Devold’s motto. She hopes that the company’s long history will help convince German consumers: “Worn by Norwegians since 1853” is proudly emblazoned on the logo.

 

Joachim Hofer covers the high-tech industry and information-technology sector for Handelsblatt. To reach the author: hofer@handelsblatt.com

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