Posted on June 15 2019
A sustainable TreeCap, made in Europe. For a long time this was very high on our list of goals. From now on, our TreeCaps will be produced exclusively in Europe. A long-aimed goal could finally be achieved, but it was an incredibly long and nerve-racking journey. Learn more about the long lasting development of the new TreeCaps produced in Europe.
Summer has definitely arrived - and when it's hot, it's important to protect yourself while sunbathing. The new TreeCaps provide the perfect remedy and protect your head from overheating. And for each TreeCap a tree is planted in a place in the world where it is needed.
We are very proud to produce our TreeCaps in Europe. The cotton used is BCI (Better Cotton Initiative) certified and the design is entirely Swiss. We have been convinced by the quality and the production on site in Bulgaria and are looking forward to a successful partnership with our new European partner.
The first series of TreeCaps
The first series of our TreeCaps was one of the last of our products to be produced in Asia. Via a distributor from Austria, who sewed the NIKIN labels onto the raw caps, the caps finally reached us in Lenzburg and went from there to the whole Europe. We had a first series produced and tested their popularity among our customers. The TreeCaps, whether Snapback or 5Panel, hit right away, almost more TreeCaps were ordered in summer than Treeanies in winter.
Our criteria were clear from the start
It was clear to us right from the start that if the TreeCaps were to go down well, we would aim for sustainable and fair production in Europe as soon as possible. We also wanted to create our own designs and cuts of the caps. This means that we no longer have our logo sewn onto a raw standard cap, but that the design with cut and dimensions is completely determined by us and that we offer "our own" cap that stands out from conventional standard caps.
The research began
"Unfortunately, the supplier I was thinking of is also producing in China. So I am at the end of my Latin. I even asked all our Turkish contacts, they know each other. Unfortunately, however, without success..." – Excerpt from the mail of a trader
We were shocked to discover that of the 60 "European" manufacturers and distributors we contacted, around 99% do not produce at all in Europe, but in the Far East or America. Many of them even replied with the advice not to even try and abandon the search for truly European manufacturers. One of our set criteria, the European production, was already a first big hurdle.
This 1% had to be found
We persisted and hired a Swiss trading company to help us with the research. After a few weeks and a long research, a glimmer of hope suddenly appeared: A Turkish producer (on European soil) was found. We wanted to be ready for the beginning of the upcoming cap season (spring/summer 2019) and since it was only summer 2018 at that time, we thought we still had enough time for the realization of the cap produced in Europe.
The time began to run away
Of course, we were relieved to finally have found a European producer after all, even though this manufacturer had never produced caps before. This shouldn't have been a problem, because he let other partners help him. It all sounded a bit suspect, but since we were under a lot of time pressure and we wanted to get ahead, we risked the step and had samples produced for CHF 1000 according to our expectations. At that time it was said that it would take between two and four weeks to deliver the first samples. We still communicated via the trading company, which gave the Turkish manufacturer our expectations from cut to embroidery. For a long time we heard nothing more and then we became impatient.
"We've been waiting quite a while now for the samples to arrive. We talked about 2-4 weeks for the first samples. But it's been months now. We actually wanted to start production in December 2018, so we are ready for spring. It's all getting pretty tight now." – Extract from the mail to the trading company
A setback, but we didn't give up
In the meantime, in order not to lose any more time, we began to continue looking for producers. At the same time we asked the Austrian trader of our first Cap series to help us. He obviously had contact to a producer in the Czech Republic, who was also willing to produce some samples for us. At that time it was already autumn and time began to run faster and faster.
An unexpected glimmer of hope
Suddenly we received a mail from one of the previously contacted manufacturers, who replied to our request and claimed to actually produce caps in Bulgaria.
"Thank you for your request regarding the Snapback Caps. We are familiar with this type of caps, but it will be difficult for us to offer a better deal than Asian manufacturers. But please give us more information about the quality, colours etc. so that we can specify our offer." – Extract from the mail of the Bulgarian manufacturer
It was finally moving forward
A serious and suitable manufacturer has finally been found. But a hurdle was that he only worked with the conventional materials, polyester and acrylic. After a long time back and forth, we finally convinced him to look for more sustainable materials. The material we were looking for was certified organic cotton, but we had to compromise. We were then able to agree together on a certified cotton (BetterCotton initiative; www.bettercotton.org, with the clear goal of switching to organic cotton soon if the collaboration had a future.
We wanted to know it exactly
A European producer, who already came quite close to our ideas, was now found. But to be quite sure, we wanted to check and make sure that our caps are really European, because apparently there are many companies that sell "European" productions, but actually produce them in Asia. We asked the Bulgarian owner, George:
"Just to be sure, the production of these caps takes place in Bulgaria, right? Does your company have international certifications?” – Excerpt from the mail to George
"The production takes place in our factory in Bulgaria. We have no international certification, but we are SMETA (Sedex Members Ethical Trade Audit; www.sedexglobal.com) certified to guarantee good and ethical practices." – Excerpt from the answer by George
We also asked for a proof video showing us the conditions in production, as well as any other information about the company.
Finally the samples arrived at our place
It took a few weeks again and shortly before Christmas we received samples from Turkey and the Czech Republic, which exceeded the deadline by several months, and a sample from Bulgaria, which came to us on time.
We examined the different samples exactly according to our criteria and noticed that our satisfaction with the first two samples was quite limited. The Turkish sample wasn't bad qualitatively, but it wasn't at all our wishes and it turned out that its production didn't even take place on European soil. The Czech cap didn't look very promising and was far from our expectations.
The only thing we were satisfied with was the Bulgarian producer, where we noticed that he really tried to get a good sample.
Our further decisions
Before we placed a big order, we decided to request another sample from all three producers, giving them our improvements as accurately as possible.
Many of the samples corresponded to our expectations far away and so further adjustments had to be made.
The time went by quickly and became more and more tight. We had announced the release of the European TreeCaps in spring 2019 and as all three producers reported further delays, we had to choose one of the three producers before the requested samples arrived. After weighing all the factors, we chose the Bulgarian producer. A release in spring was already very tight, but now that we were only focusing on one producer, it accelerated the process.
"Thank you for choosing our company. We agree that there will be some adjustment to the samples and we are waiting for the details from you. This morning I requested the colour samples from the factory, by the middle of the week we will have a deadline to receive them. In response to your question about a weekly shipment, I confirm that this is possible. As soon as I have the price for the thicker material, I will send you our final offer. I hope to have the price before the end of the week." – Excerpt from George's response to our commitment
He was of course happy that we decided to go with him and from then on we started to build a good partnership, further adjustments were made to the cap and the material still has room for improvement but is already much better than before. We can be very proud to be possibly one of the only brands that produces its caps in Europe.
A long and nerve-wracking road with a happy ending
The way to here was hard and because we were disappointed again and again, often depressing. But we did not give up and always believed: a cap produced in Europe must be possible! We managed it, even if the European production costs us clearly more than it would cost in Asia, we offer from now on our completely self-designed and in Europe produced cap, from sustainable materials and to a fair and still affordable price.
Visit at TreeCap production in Bulgaria
After the long but successful search for a suitable European producer of our TreeCaps we wanted to get an impression of the production in Northwest Bulgaria. The owner, George, guided us through his production facilities, demonstrated every single production step and left a really great impression. We are looking forward to a successful partnership with our new European partner. Have a look at our visit in the video!
The visit to Bulgaria was a great success!