With a generation change at the top of the company, the outdoor specialist Vaude has systematically converted the entire operation along the global supply chain to sustainability over the past 14 years: from internal processes to raw materials to products. Not an easy undertaking, and one that also required a high level of investment. Sparkasse Bodensee and later Landesbank Baden-Württemberg have accompanied Vaude for decades. This is also a good example of how the sustainable business model of a still 100% family-owned company and the Savings Bank model complement each other perfectly.
»Today, sustainability is primarily about meeting present needs without depriving future generations of their livelihoods in the process.« This is a current general definition of sustainability. And this is precisely the approach that Vaude, as an outdoor equipment supplier for mountain sports, cycling and hiking and thus a company with a strong affinity to nature, has been pursuing since the very beginning. Mountain sports enthusiast Albrecht von Dewitz started out in 1974 as a one-man business in Untereisenbach, a small hamlet near Tettnang in the Lake Constance district of Baden-Württemberg. In the early years, hardly anyone was talking about sustainability, but recycling and ecological production were already issues at Vaude. The holistic focus on sustainability was then initiated by daughter Antje von Dewitz 35 years later when she took over the management in 2009. For her, it was clear from the beginning: »We fully embrace our responsibility to people and nature.«
»Garage start-up« supported from the start
Sustainable growth is inextricably linked with appropriate financing. Two like-minded partners, Vaude and the Savings Bank came together for this purpose. After starting with a small production facility in a barn, Albrecht von Dewitz opened his first business account in August 1974 at the main branch of the then Kreissparkasse Friedrichshafen in Tettnang, a predecessor institution of Sparkasse Bodensee, which was founded in 2001. For Klaus-Dieter Schmidberger, Deputy Member of the Board of Directors of Sparkasse Bodensee, this was the successful start of a long-lasting relationship: »From today's perspective, the Savings Bank thus accompanied what was a classic »garage start-up« to become the internationally active medium-sized company it is today.«
But a great deal happened before that: Vaude's product range meets a gap in the market. Due to the rapidly growing turnover – already DM 5 million in 1979 – the company moved its location to a new building in Tettnang-Obereisenbach in the same year. The investment in the headquarters, which is still in use today, was supported and financed by the Savings Bank. In the following years, Vaude built up its own production facilities in addition to the wholesale business – both in Germany and internationally. The growth curve has continued to climb steeply and in 2022 the EUR 150 million mark was exceeded. This has required correspondingly higher demands on financing in the increasingly international business. The Savings Bank therefore took advantage of the expertise and excellent cooperation within the Savings Banks Finance Group and brought the Landesbank, now LBBW, into the business relationship in the 1990s.
Albrecht von Dewitz and Vaude also focused on sustainability from early on, for example in 1994 with the start of the Ecolog recycling network for recycling outdoor clothing, or in 2001 when Vaude became the first sportswear manufacturer to start producing according to the ecological Bluesign standard. With its regional ties and sustainable orientation, Schmidberger says the company fits perfectly with the Savings Bank business model and its focus on the established home region, support for the regional economy and customer proximity: »After all, sustainable business is also the basis of our more than 200-year history.« This was even more the case when Antje von Dewitz succeeded her father in 2009 and initiated the complete orientation towards sustainability across all company divisions: »Our plan was to become the most sustainable outdoor outfitter in Europe within five years.«
Vaude sustainability milestones
Start of the Ecolog recycling network
Production according to the ecological Bluesign standard
Environmentally friendly products with »Green Shape« label
This means introducing a value-oriented culture, new corporate structures and coordinating the transformation with producers, suppliers and, of course, the banks. They were very sceptical at the beginning – with the exception of the Savings Bank and LBBW. Thomas Kind, LBBW customer advisor for Vaude, puts it this way: »Right from the start, I was inspired by the determination with which Vaude committed itself to sustainability. There was real conviction behind it.« Determination that quickly lead to real results: Since 2012, the company headquarters and all products manufactured there have been climate-neutral.
Consortium secures sustainable financing
Meanwhile, Vaude continued to grow. In order to meet this development financially, the banking duo Sparkasse Bodensee and LBBW became a consortium with other institutions with the Landesbank as lead manager. For the financing, a precisely tailored syndicated loan in the high double-digit million range became available as part of the corporate sustainable finance advisory service, which LBBW arranged and has continued in a new agreement since 2019. »As a large and internationally active company, Vaude now needs such funding for its diverse investments and working capital financing,« explains Stefan Wund, corporate customer advisor at Sparkasse Bodensee. »Among the financing banks, the Savings Banks Finance Group is the most important pillar with a volume share of more than two thirds. Sparkasse Bodensee continues to be Vaude's largest financing partner.«
Erwin Gutensohn, Vaude CFO, was initially not very enthusiastic about the idea of a syndicated loan because of all the effort involved. Since then, his scepticism has completely disappeared. The CFO now has a freer hand for investments: »Thanks to the syndicated loan, we can finance our green future.« One result: in 2015, Vaude was named »Germany's most sustainable brand«. Many small steps were necessary before reaching this milestone. And the journey continued, always closely accompanied by the Savings Bank and LBBW. Because there is much more to a sustainable company than just the products: there is also a culture of trust that shapes employee management, work-life balance with a company kindergarten and working from home, employee participation programmes, as well as involvement in the political arena and in associations. »Vaude has implemented all this step by step and shown that sustainability also pays off economically,« emphasises Gutensohn. »We are also happy to pass on this know-how to interested companies, and in 2020 we founded our own Vaude Academy for sustainable business as an additional branch of the company.«
Climate neutral at the German headquarters
Leader status with the Fair Wear Foundation (FWF)
State »Green Button« seal for most of the product range
Vaude and all of their products manufactured worldwide are climate neutral
The success continued during or despite Corona. Vaude benefited from the desire of many people during the pandemic to engage in outdoor sports. 2020 and even more so 2021 were very strong growth years for the company. Turnover rose to more than EUR 130 million. Since 2022, Vaude has been climate neutral in all of its products manufactured worldwide. CO2 emissions that are currently still unavoidable in production are offset by certificates, but with the help of ambitious CO2 reduction targets, this proportion is steadily being reduced.
Vaude's main goal for the future is to further decouple its own growth from resource consumption. The main share of sales is currently still in Germany. In the future, Vaude also wants to take a leading role in the outdoor market in the Germany/Austria/Switzerland region and Western Europe, without giving up its claim to sustainability. »We are not growing for the sake of growth. It is a highly competitive industry. But with more size we can also bring greater sustainability to the world,« Antje von Dewitz outlines the strategy. Sparkasse Bodensee and LBBW will also closely accompany Vaude's further development as an international sustainability company.
Short profile of Sparkasse Bodensee
As a local financial services provider, Sparkasse Bodensee helps shape the region and society locally. With total assets of EUR 5.3 billion, almost 700 employees and 248,000 customers, it represents a strong partner and is also an important economic player. Sustainability is firmly anchored in their business strategy.
Short profile of Vaude
Vaude offers innovative and sustainable products for mountain and cycling sports as well as for all outdoor activities. The southern German company is family-owned in the second generation and is committed to maintaining high ecological and social standards along its global supply chains. As a sustainable outdoor brand, Vaude's more than 650 employees develop products and services that are environmentally friendly and fair.