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"This is not a shoe, this is state-of-the-art!"

Thomas Gröger, Hanwag
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From the scree field to the catwalk: the traditional German brand Hanwag is celebrating huge success with its mountain and trekking shoes at the Fashion Weeks in Paris and Tokyo. In a new episode of "Challenges of a CEO", Hanwag CEO Thomas Gröger tells us how this came about and why all outdoor brands flirting with the high fashion market shouldn't have too high expectations.

Imagine: a showroom in picturesque Paris, craft beer bottles from the ice bucket, guests in 500 euro jogging bottoms. And me in the middle of it all in traditional Bavarian costume and our retro red dot - the mountain boot with which Hanwag was represented at an international fashion fair for the very first time in February 2023.

Outdoor fashion is on trend

But first back to the beginning. A former Hanwag employee literally stumbled across a pair of original Rotpunkt shoes in Stockholm: A person was simply wearing the Hanwag classic from the 80s on the street. We were able to buy the pair of shoes from her and put them in the display case in our office in Bavaria.

Around the same time, the Munich fashion agency Akkvrat got in touch. Our shoes were "really cool" and they wanted to position Hanwag in the fashion segment. We turned them down. We also declined the second and third requests. But owner Atith Kotsombat didn't give up and so we invited him and his team to visit us on the fourth call. And what immediately caught their eye during the visit? The red dot in our display case. It would go through the roof at Fashion Week.

From Bavaria to Paris: Thanks to a former employee and the tenacity of a fashion agency, Hanwag's red dot classic from the 80s conquers the fashion world.
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From the mountain to Fashion Week

I was skeptical. I associated "fashion" with white sneakers and high emissions. Hanwag is the exact opposite: hundreds of hours of traditional craftsmanship go into every pair of our shoes. For us, design always has a technical purpose. We don't make shoes that look good, we make shoes for the mountain, for trekking or long-distance hiking.

We are a small company with limited resources. That's another reason why we initially said no. Sustainability, history, authentic products - that's exactly what's needed in the high fashion segment, the agency told us. Not the quick off-the-peg copies, the white sneakers. Outdoor is the big trend in fashion and Hanwag had to go to Paris Fashion Week with a colorful new edition of the red dot. We thought that was cool.

Hanwag at the Paris Fashion Week: from a traditional craft company to a cool outdoor brand.
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Oliver Knoch

I've known the outdoor industry for 30 years and have been to all the trade shows. But Fashion Week is not a trade show as we outdoor brands know it. You rent a store or a bar in the city center and exhibit there. We didn't need a booth at all. That was something completely new for me.

Our storytelling was finally in demand

None of the people who came to our showroom were dressed normally. They were all individualists. But they were really interested in the Hanwag story: in our history, sustainable production in Europe and 100 years of footwear craftsmanship. In the outdoor industry, we talked these topics up and down. In the end, it was often just about the price.

Hanwag CEO Thomas Gröger in seiner Produktionshalle.
Thomas Gröger is proud of Hanwag's company history.
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There at Paris Fashion Week, our story finally took center stage. The feedback was: this is not a shoe, this is state-of-the-art! Since then, I've seen the fashion world from a completely different perspective.

We then launched the retro red dot not only in Paris, but also in Tokyo, Munich and New York. And what can I say - in terms of brand building and tapping into new target groups, it couldn't have gone better.

We do not develop fashion shoes especially for Paris

Our classic mountain boots in brown and gray would not have received so much attention. We have become more colorful and terms like "color blocking" are no longer used so rarely at Hanwag. However, it is very important to me that we are not associated with the fast fashion industry. Hanwag does not develop fashion products. The shoes remain the same.

We only produced a limited quantity of the Rotpunkt, which sold out quickly. Since then, we've had more and more requests from international retailers, not only for the Rotpunkt, but also for other models. The Alaska is now also available in bright orange and we're currently talking a lot about our Grid Stone - a low shoe that I wouldn't describe as modern. But Atith Kotsombat thinks that our classic embodies exactly what the high-fashion world needs right now. So let's see how we can make that happen.

What do we take away from this experience?

Of course, we also take our shoes from the international Fashion Weeks to outdoor trade shows such as OutDoor by ISPO. Because we want our long-standing retailers to be able to jump on the bandwagon. And that is happening. Fashion was already a huge topic at the last ISPO trade show.

For us at Hanwag, it's very clear that we don't want to develop fashion products in the future either. I don't think that would work either. We didn't actively enter the fashion market, we were found by high fashion. I can only say to anyone flirting with the market: don't set your expectations too high. We are outdoor brands, not fashion brands that sell hundreds of thousands of shoes overnight.

Nevertheless, we have found a new sales market in the high fashion sector that is working for us right now. It's fun that our storytelling is so well received in this environment! And when the trend is over again, that's just the way it is. We were right at the forefront, which is just great.