Sina Trinkwalder is setting an example for the German economy with her textile company.
Sina Trinkwalder is an extraordinary German entrepreneuse. Her concept and her corporate philosophy are unparalleled in Germany. She founded the textile company manomama six years ago, alone and armed with nothing but a sewing machine. Today over 100 women and a handful of men sit down to work at the large industrial complex in Augsburg. The factory is alive with the sound of rattling sewing machines and cheerful chatter interspersed with loud laughter. It's a relaxed and light-hearted atmosphere. The women's faces shine, especially when Sina walks through the aisles. Sina knows all of their names, their faces and their interests.
The job market considers most of her employees difficult to place. They are 99ers, people with a migrant background, single parents, and illiterates. But that's no problem at manomama. The company employs everybody who applies, and on permanent rather than short-term contracts.
Sina firmly believes that if you show people trust, they appreciate it and grasp the opportunity with both hands.
What may sound naive to most entrepreneurs and economic specialists is proving successful in Sina's case. The company operates in the black. Most of manomama's sales come from cloth bags produced for companies like DM or Edeka.
Manomama also introduced its own fashion label a while back. Sina comes up with the designs, and her employees make the garments. Instead of investing in expensive advertising and models, the employees do the modelling and photography themselves. Everything else remains in house, too. Manomama even takes care of the shipping. 'You can't really claim to be a sound and fair producer if you then bring in a company like Amazon. The chain must be sound from start to finish,' explains Sina.
These lofty social aspirations also include ecological measures. All materials used at manomama are from Germany, preferably from the local area. Only the cotton is not grown within Germany's borders. It comes from Tanzania. To ensure that everything in Tanzania likewise meets the high standards, Sina travels there once a year to help with the harvest. 'You have to know the first link of the chain to be able to value the work and give the products the respect they deserve,' says Sina. 'When I know that somebody has spent two hours in the African heat harvesting cotton to make a T-shirt, it gives me a whole new perspective on things.'
We met Sina in Augsburg to talk about her radical career change and the idea behind manomama.
You headed an advertising agency together with your husband for 13 years. But then something happened that prompted a rethink and a radical fresh start. What was that?
There were lots of things. I had grown tired of the work in the ad industry. On the way back from a meeting, I had an experience that made me think hard about things. I was standing at a station and threw away a magazine without even thinking about it. A short while later, a homeless man came along, sifted through the trash, and was pleased to pull out my magazine. This perplexed me, since it was a glossy women's magazine, and I couldn't imagine what he wanted it for. I had two other magazines with me, which he accepted gratefully when I offered them to him. When I asked him what he planned to do with the magazines, he explained that he and his wife were homeless. In the days leading up to Christmas, he wanted to gather glossy covers to make Christmas decorations. I felt a mixture of shame and joy. Shame because I had to witness how people in my own country were struggling to get by. And joy because it was the food for thought I had been waiting for. The question about the point of my work. Moved by this encounter, I got to talking with my husband on the train. We chatted about my experience and the worries I was having concerning the point of my work. He then came up with a wonderful answer: 'It's not merely about trying to fathom the point of your work, but rather its impact on our society.'
No sooner said than done. With manomama, you founded a company that is unparalleled in Germany, if not the whole of Europe. As well as applying the highest ecological standards, your company is also socially responsible to the extreme in that, for the most part, you employ people who have no chance in the regular job market.
How do you at manomama succeed in turning people who are considered difficult to place in the job market into valuable and effective employees?
The idea behind manomama is people rather than fashion. I create a place for people who have it tough in our society and this place becomes available when you bury greed. For us, it's important to operate in the black so that we can all earn our livelihood together. Here it's not about generating as much profit as possible. We make a profit of a different kind. We have around 100 people working here who, were they not at manomama, would be living on 'Hartz IV' welfare support. Hartz IV costs the state €1300 per month. So by having 100 people work here, we are saving the state €130,000 per month. Added to this are pension and health-insurance contributions. The most important thing of all, however, is that we are giving people back their dignity.
I create a place for people who have it tough in our society. And this place becomes available when you bury greed.
Why did you decide to establish a textile company?
Textiles have a long tradition in Augsburg. We were a centre of the European textile industry for many years. It began back in pre-industrial times and unfortunately ended with the onset of globalisation in the 1970s, which resulted in more and more outsourcing of work to low-wage countries. This means that there are fewer and fewer jobs for low-qualified people who can and want to work but just need to be given an opportunity.
What criteria do you apply when choosing your employees?
I have no interest in résumés and the like. I look at the postmark on the letter. Whoever applies first is also offered a job first. Very few of our people can sew when they get here. After they arrive here, we look at what skills and capabilities they already have. We then teach them the rest.
You don't describe yourself as an employer. Why not?
My employees work for themselves rather than for me. Plus I don't pay anybody a wage. Instead, we earn what we need to live. I think that's a really important difference. Rather than give people work, I take on people who can and want to work. For me, the term 'employer' has nothing to do with appreciation of the relationship.