When the German children’s brand Disana was founded, eco-friendly children’s fashion was purely a niche product. Things have changed a lot since then. Today, the brand has conquered wardrobes for ages 0 to 6. Disana works almost exclusively with organic wool and produces woolen suits, jackets, pants and accessories as well as light sweaters and shirts. The production takes place entirely in Germany. And while the brand’s name may sound fancy, its origin is down to earth. It combines the names of Dieter and Imma Sautter with natural fabric. The duo founded the brand almost 40 years ago in Lichtenstein-Holzelfingen, near Reutlingen, and have now passed it on to their children Elmar and Aiga Sautter. Today, Disana sells its products in 800 stores in 26 countries. From Fairbanks in Alaska to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam.
Rarity: GOTS certified wool
The brand was born from the production of knitted diapers. âMy dad had a knitting machine in the cellar and he got an order to develop knit diapers because they are more elastic. Back then, cloth diapers were the norm. There were no darlings back then, âsays Elmar Sautter. At first Disana processed conventional cotton, but gradually the idea emerged that children’s clothing should also be healthy and free from chemicals. The range of products has grown and over time, Disana has switched to unbleached cotton, then to wool, organic wool for that matter. Today, 95% of Disana’s collection is made of wool, with an annual requirement of 150 to 160 tonnes of GOTS certified organic wool. Sautter: âThis already makes us one of the biggest customers of GOTS wool. The market is quite small. There are only about 800 tonnes of it on the world market every year. Since wool has become an âIn fiberâ and has undergone a complete change of image, demand and prices have steadily increased.
Focus on organic growth
Disana’s turnover has also been growing for 15 years. Up to about 15 percent a year, Sautter says, and he thinks that in itself is “madness.” He makes sure that the business grows organically and that he can handle the expansion well. This is important to him: âI am wary of companies that claim that their turnover doubles every year. We can manage our growth with our own resources. We have no investors and no production abroad. We finance everything ourselves from our own treasury. All Disana products are produced in-house on their own 40 knitting machines. Only the fulling is outsourced, to the neighboring village, says Sautter. Certified wool and in-house production is Disana’s main marketing theme, âwhich people really appreciateâ.
High demands on retailers
Disana receives many inquiries from retailers and has to turn down many, not just for capacity reasons. âWe set high standards for our business partners. For example, we send a questionnaire to find out in which ecological or social commitments the traders make, how they improve the planet a little â, explains the boss of the company. Those who stand out are more likely to acquire the brand. They are mostly independent retailers, online and with physical premises. We have our own store and an online store with mostly special editions. âWe do almost 99% of our wholesale sales, the rest online. “
Sales are made directly through Disana
Another particularity of Disana: sales are made exclusively through Disana. There are no agents. Anyone who wants to work with the brand can only do so through direct contact. This is where trade shows play an important role. They allow direct contact and the possibility of presenting innovations. Disana is represented at the Innatex natural fabrics fair in Germany but also at Playtime in Paris and at Ciff in Copenhagen. Sautter: âI see it as customer service. We don’t have a sales force that travels across the county to visit stores. The DACH region (Germany, Austria, Switzerland) is the main market with 62 percent. The largest non-German speaking region is North America, followed by Scandinavia and England.
Eco-client or hipster?
And what about the balance between the original environmentally conscious customer group and today’s hip parents? âWe focus on new customers. Our target group is the mother, i.e. a young woman of around 30 who is active on social media and who may also visit our website. We got rid of our printed catalogs. For contemporary design, we hired a Swiss designer who is herself a young mother and therefore knows the precise requirements of the target group. However, the collection does not need to change much. Sautter: âIn fact, we get new customers every day, so we don’t have to constantly reinvent our products. Since Disana extended the age group to elementary school age, the time frame has grown longer until the target group grows out of the mark.
Disana is open to new ideas. It can be seen in a completely different project. In collaboration with FH Reutlingen, the company has just developed a 3D printed hanger made from wool dust and organic glue as part of a pilot project.
High retention of collection value
A Disana overalls in the smallest baby size of 50/56 is expensive: around 80 euros. Two sizes larger and prices go up to 95 Euros. âWe know that our items are expensive just because of the high cost of the raw material,â Sautter explains. âFrom a kilo of wool which costs 32 euros, we only get two combinations, without any additions. Not everyone can afford it, so he’s happy when the items are handed over. âWe know it and we also actively communicate it. Disana also offers a repair service and spare parts such as buttons or cuffs via the website so that the clothes can be worn for as long as possible.
Balance between general public and niche
The fact that Disana can now be seen as the new mainstream is viewed by Sautter with a somewhat critical eye. âIt’s been a long time since we’ve been a niche product, that’s true. From a purely statistical point of view, one in nine children in Germany wears Disana overalls. And of course, we are delighted. He also finds it important that sustainability has gained prominence in the fashion industry. But the fact that suddenly, one way or another, everyone wants to be sustainable, bothers him. âThen we lose the unique selling point that has supported us for years and years. This problem affects many brands which have become big in the field of eco-fashion and which suddenly find themselves facing completely unsuspected competition, even from the biggest fast fashion brands. âI defend myself against this kind of mainstream since we do a lot more, not just a small, sustainable capsule collection. Sustainability isn’t plugged in for us, it’s our DNA.
This article was translated from German.