Wearing a pair of grey Converse sneakers, blue pants and pink shirt, Peter Geiger welcomes us to his company in Schwaz. A quite surprisingly casual look for the CEO of a global fashion company. Developing a new fashion concept, his great-grandmother founded the company in Schwaz in 1906. A company that was to change the world of fashion with “Norwegian Sweaters” and Walk (boiled wool) jackets. Peter Geiger takes us on a tour of Geiger Fashion’s production hall—and of his company’s history. The company is still headquartered in Schwaz in Tirol.
Company Founder without the Right to Vote
The company was started by Peter Geiger’s great-grandmother Barbara in Tirol in 1906. Barbara Geiger was quite an entrepreneurial woman for the times. After all, women achieved the right to vote in Austria only twelve years later, in 1918. Barbara Geiger purchased wool from local mountain farmers and employed women to create her first collection of “Höslstutzen” (an Alpine variety of legwarmers) and knit cardigans on manual knitting machines. She might not have expected that her company would still be flourishing 112 years later, with a subsidiary in the United States of America.
Mountain Farmers and their All-Natural Warm & Breathable Fabrics
In its more-than-a-century-long history, Geiger became a global player in the fashion industry by further developing an ‘invention’ made by Tirolean mountain farmers. They had discovered the process of felting by accident: The fabric shrinks when being washed, becoming denser after the procedure. Moreover, boiled or felted wool is warmer, more durable as well as windproof. Geiger revolutionized the industry with the new idea of washing the knitted fabric rather than the knitted garment in large industrial washing-machines. The result was an extraordinary material: Walk fabric. For the first time ever this fabric made it possible to cut the parts for each garment more precisely, allowing a much more exact fit of the final product. As a last manufacturing step, the Walk fabric is smoothened and pressed with rotating rollers under pressure. Geiger produces some 50 different types of Walk, from super soft to extra firm. The Geiger Walk innovation cunningly elevates the natural qualities of the traditional material used by mountain farmers centuries ago. Small air pockets get trapped in the fabric during the “walk process”, also called the process of felting, giving the fabric its warm characteristics that resemble synthetic micro-fibers. Clothing articles made of this fabric maintain an almost constant temperature, keeping the wearer warm even in extremely windy and cold environments. Walk garment is an ideal insulation layer that allows the skin to breath.
Corporate Social Responsibility versus Sweatshops
During our tour of the production hall, I spot a “rail-like” system that is mounted above our heads and snakes through the entire building. This new logistics and production system was developed by his father Hansjoerg and two experts in the 1990ies, as Peter Geiger explains. The “Modular Transport System” saves personnel, time and money and Geiger even resells the system to other companies in the meantime. And while more and more international competitors use “sweatshops” in their production chains, where people work under poor, socially unacceptable working conditions, Geiger strives to offer fair, social, healthy and safe conditions. Wool is still the major material used by Geiger and it is produced into garments in Austria and neighbouring countries.
It’s a Geiger…
… is what Americans say when they are talking about Walk (boiled wool) jackets.
In the 1950ies, Geiger outfitted the Austrian National Ski Team with its trendy “Norwegian Sweaters” for their competitions. Winning race after race in the sports world they also raced ahead in the fashion world. A moment in time came in the 1956 Winter Olympics in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, when Tony Sailer won three gold medals wearing a red cable-patterned sweater that Geiger had designed for him. This earned Toni the nickname “roter Blitz von Kitz” (“the red flash from Kitzbuehel”). The “Sailer Pullover” became such a sales hit that the knitting machines in Schwaz were running day and night and Geiger became recognized internationally. As the official supplier for the Austrian National Ski Team, Geiger created their “Olympic Look” for the 1964 Winter Games, a set of sweater and cardigan with a jacquard pattern combining the Austrian Eagle, the Crest of Innsbruck and the Olympic Rings. Moreover, Geiger became the outfitter for Himalayan Expeditions in the 1960ies.
When in 1975 Alice and C.J. Neil Kvasnak started offering Geiger in their boutique “Skihaus” in Middlebury, Vermont the Tirolean brand took off like a rocket. In their first season they sold 30,000 pieces of Geiger. Due to their huge success the Geiger management appointed the Kvasnak’s to coordinate sales for the entire USA. Fashion made in Schwaz, Tirol soon enjoyed a real “cult” status and Geiger fans started saying “It’s a Geiger” when they were talking about their favourite Walk jacket.
From Schwaz into the World
Based on this success, Hansjoerg Geiger founded “Geiger of Austria, Inc.” in Middlebury, Vermont, in the early 1980ies. Initially Geiger of Austria built a distribution network by partnering with 350 exclusive boutiques across the Unites States. A steadily growing number of Geiger fans in the USA motivated the company management to open the first Geiger Boutique in New York in the mid 1980ies, with pre-shows at the heart of Manhattan. In 2003, Peter Geiger, Hansjoerg Geiger’s youngest son, joined the family team and developed a variety of collections, from Geiger Country over Geiger free:style to “Isabella G ”. In 2007, Geiger of Austria, Inc. contributed more than 30% to Geiger’s sales worldwide. Today, Geiger fashion is sold in Europe, Asia, the US and Canada.
Paying Homage to its Home Region
After 112 years, the company headquarter with design studio, production, sales and marketing along with administration is still located in the small town of Schwaz in Tirol. In September 2015, Geiger Fashion paid homage to its home region with its new “Karwendel Silver Region ” Collection. Peter Geiger’s great-grandmother would surely have liked that.
View the latest Geiger Collections on Pinterest: www.pinterest.com/geigerofaustria
(Header Photo Credit: Geiger Mode / Silberregion Karwendel)