PPE

Behind the scenes with footwear specialist HAIX: A family business

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Tanja Haimerl, HAIX Managing Partner shares details on the company’s heritage and culture and the trends she envisages in safety footwear

Many companies claim to be a ‘family business’, but few can be as confident when they say this as global functional footwear expert HAIX, now led by the third generation of the Haimerl family. 

First founded in 1948 by Xaver Haimerl (with the HAIX name being a shortened version of the ‘Haimerl Xaver Shoe Factory’), the HAIX brand quickly became synonymous with quality work and outdoor footwear. While working as a certified master shoemaker in his father’s factory, Ewald Haimerl had risen to the rank of deputy chief of Mainburg fire service. This gave him first-hand experience of the working life of a firefighter and especially the rubber boots they were expected to wear on duty. So, in the 1990s Ewald decided to design a collection of functional leather firefighting boots for his colleagues. The boots set new standards of functionality, protection and comfort, and were so well regarded that HAIX began selling them.  

Since then, HAIX has gone on to become one of the world’s leading footwear manufacturers and its range is trusted by professionals in industries as diverse as manufacturing, utilities, logistics, forestry and the emergency services. 

Sadly, Ewald passed away suddenly in 2019 but the family remains at the heart of the business with his children now leading HAIX into the future. We spoke to his daughter, Tanja, about their heritage, their commitment to building on this experience and their ambitions for HAIX. 

Could you tell us about the HAIX culture and what you do that’s different from other businesses?

We are proud that HAIX is still a family business. When my father developed the first leather firefighter boots, it was an extremely unconventional idea. We have carried on this tradition and I believe that this is one of the secrets to our success: dare to do something new. 

We also made a corporate responsibility promise over seventy years ago focussed on ‘Made in Europe’ manufacturing. All HAIX shoes are 100 per cent manufactured in Europe and our promise means fair working conditions, sustainable practices and modern testing facilities. Our promise also reflects our commitment to Europe as a business location and to European values such as equal opportunities, education and respect. 

Does HAIX support Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives? 

We regularly witness the effects of global climate change in our work supporting organisations and fire brigades in dealing with major incidents. Recently, our US team supported the rescue forces dealing with the tragic building collapse in Miami by providing safety boots, and after the flood disaster in Germany, our colleagues were on-site to provide rescue workers with shoes and equipment. 

Sustainability plays a critical role at HAIX. Every year over 300 million pairs of shoes are thrown away by the UK public. We use high-quality materials to extend the life of footwear and encourage prolonged use. In fact, HAIX® shoes are put through their paces to ensure that they exceed the minimum standards as much as possible, including undergoing a series of over 100 material and quality assurance tests, replicating the day-to-day challenges of wearers, who spend most of their time on their feet. We also offer a repair service, for example, a full resole gives renewed grip and posture and can double the life expectancy of HAIX footwear.  

We are also committed to reducing our emissions and ensuring we save valuable resources where possible. We have already achieved a lot through our durable products, Made in Europe 

manufacturing and our repair service. To further reduce our ecological footprint, we operate three photovoltaic systems, use heat recovery and have switched to energy-saving LED lighting. We are also supported by our interdisciplinary Footprint team, which initiates sustainable actions, for example, our own beekeeping. 

How many people work for HAIX and where do you operate around the globe? 

At the moment, around 1,700 employees work at HAIX. Our production sites in Mainburg, Germany and Mala Subotica, Croatia are among the world’s most modern shoe production facilities, helping us to serve our customers in more than 80 countries across the world . All our facilities are socially audited according to the Business Social Compliance Initiative (BSCI), an industry-driven movement that aims to monitor and assess workplace standards across the global supply chain. This ensures workers are protected from common perils of the retail industry from extremely low wages to health problems and insecure work.   

HAIX is synonymous with innovation and product development, do you work closely with your end-users to understand their needs? 

Although laboratory testing and development is a foundation of any high-quality product, it’s our commitment to wearer trials that takes things a step further. We equip users with boots for months at a time to use during their day-to-day routine activities. Performance questionnaires are distributed both during and at the end of the trail, then the user feedback is taken on board, and design changes are made as necessary to better support the wearer’s needs.  

This has led to some of the unique design elements that you see in our footwear today such as lacing systems that are easy to use and ensure a comfortable fit, material changes to improve durability and outsole designs that improve slip resistance. 

What trends do you envisage in safety footwear?  What are going to be the critical factors in design – looks, comfort, technical function? 

Foot health is becoming more and more important, especially in the field of emergency and safety footwear. Of course, these shoes must first and foremost protect their wearers. But even the safest shoe is of no use if it is uncomfortable and therefore not worn willingly. That’s why we also focus on maximum comfort, so that our customers feel completely at ease.  

Our CONNEXIS product line promotes the wearer’s health by stimulating the fascia, thereby releasing tension, stimulating the muscles and reducing negative effects on the musculoskeletal system. In addition, CONNEXIS models are designed to support the natural functioning of the feet and prevent malpositions. CONNEXIS is therefore a double investment, because it protects its wearers today and pays for their health tomorrow.