Family business Schijvens Corporate Fashion, social for 160 years

Family business Schijvens Corporate Fashion, social for 160 years

April 29, 2024

Family business Schijvens Corporate Fashion, social for 160 years

Then: Maker of dust coats

Now: Maker of Fair and Circular work clothing for A-brands


Since 2000, Schijvens Corporate Fashion has focused with heart and soul on fairwear. Since 2016, the company has been producing almost completely circularly. The most famous Dutch companies such as KLM, NS and Albert Heijn have their employees dressed by Schijvens. Ambassadors, ministers and even His Majesty the King came to Hilvarenbeek to see how team Schijvens does it. “Well, step by step. You just have to start.” A special interview with commercial director Shirley Schijvens.

Schijvens has been around for over 160 years, and all this time you have stuck to the core: making company clothing. Tell.

“My great-great-grandfather Johannes started making dust coats in 1863. He made dust coats for the butcher, the baker, and the grocer. All the same jackets, but the butcher had a red piece on his sleeve and the baker had a yellow piece. It has remained that way for a hundred years. When supermarkets arrived in the 1970s, we started making dust coats in the supermarket colors. In the meantime, many shops disappeared and the number of supermarket chains was not unlimited, so in the 1980s we started looking for a different type of customer. These became retail chains such as Kruidvat, HEMA, Karwei and Intratuin. Later, catering establishments were also added, such as McDonald’s, Sligro and the Compass Group. In this way we continued to grow.”

When did you and your brother enter the business?

“Late nineties. At that time you saw the trend towards internet shops. You also saw the first self-checkout checkouts at supermarkets at that time. We thought that retail might disappear and once again looked for expansion opportunities. We ended up in the construction and travel sectors. In 2000 we started our brand T’riffic. We have also started to actively focus on the travel industry. The NS is now one of our largest customers and last year we were also able to welcome KLM and Transavia.”

What does the company look like now?

“We have a hundred employees in the Netherlands and fifty in our factory in Turkey. Approximately 40 employees work at the head office, 30 in our warehouse in Bladel, 20 at our fitting location at Schiphol (for KLM staff) and 5 at our fitting location in Den Bosch (for NS and Transavia staff). My brother is financial director, my husband is general manager and I am commercial director.”

Nog steeds een echt familiebedrijf dus.

“Jazeker, ik zou het erg leuk vinden als het bedrijf later door onze kinderen wordt voortgezet. De twee oudste werken al in het bedrijf. Eigenlijk is het hele bedrijf één grote familie; een familie van allerlei pluimage zeg ik altijd. Ik beschouw onze collega’s ook als kinderen. Ik wil graag voor iedereen zorgen. En iedereen is gelijk, of je nou schoonmaker bent of magazijnmedewerker, iedereen draagt zijn steentje bij. Laatst zijn we met z’n allen op reis geweest naar onze leverancier in Marokko.”

In 2013 you existed for 150 years. Was that the starting signal to become truly sustainable?

No, that was before. I joined the business in 1998 and noticed that our prices were higher than our competitors. They had already moved their production to low-wage countries. But yes, we had a studio full of seamstresses, so we didn’t want to just say goodbye to them. Ultimately, it took ten years before the last seamstress left service. In the meantime, I started looking for factories abroad that could take over the work. I will never forget how I handled that first large order. I made a call via Alibaba on the internet: who can help me? I received dozens of emails from distant countries. Eventually I started working with a small sewing factory in Bangladesh. In retrospect, of course, a huge risk. Luckily it turned out fine.”

It seems difficult to me to find new suppliers on my own…

“It was. That’s why we hired someone who had a lot of experience with this, Jaap Rijnsdorp. Together we went all over the world looking for suppliers. After two years of traveling we were in love, haha. We have been married for years now.”

Have you also visited the factory in Bangladesh?

“Yes, two months after the order we visited the factory. What we saw then was truly terrible. People sleeping next to machines. It was dark, hot, musty, dusty, dirty. There was no good lighting, no air conditioning. You also saw poverty everywhere on the streets. I didn’t feel good about it at all. Another visit was to a weaving mill in China. There were curtains everywhere inside, and canvases hung from the ceiling. Everything was closed, there was no good light. Nebulizers had to ensure that it did not become too dusty, the water that came off dripped into buckets that were everywhere. I immediately thought: if a spark comes from the machine – and that chance is high with dirty machines – a fire will break out and we will be trapped like rats. So I asked the owner, Mike, what if a fire breaks out? I said that in the Netherlands we have to meet certain safety requirements. He said he wanted that too, but he couldn’t afford it. Then I thought: let’s make a difference. I said: ‘We give an extra dime for every meter of fabric and you will use that money to improve the factory’. The next day we cleaned everything. Remove the cloths and start working with buckets of soapy water. At the end of the day, the emergency door could be opened again and there was light.”

Did you help with the cleaning yourself?

“Sure. I’m not better than anyone else. I thought – and think – it is our responsibility to allow our people to work in good conditions. And it also works, people get excited about it. A year later, Mike called: ‘Shirley, the entire factory has been renovated, thanks to your money!’ They were extremely proud and so were we.”

Not long after that you started working with the Fair Wear Foundation?

“That’s right, I wanted it to be well arranged. Fair Wear Foundation is independent and critical. They don’t just say: this is right and this is wrong. They also say: these are our findings, what are you going to do about them? We then sit down with the suppliers. This has to happen, how can we help you. In this way we ensure better working conditions step by step. When we started in 2010 we had a score of 5.6, now we are at 8.8.”

You have production partners in Morocco, Turkey, China, Pakistan, Portugal, India and Macedonia. Do you also consider them family?

“Certainly! Since our anniversary in 2013, we have organized a supplier meeting every year at one of the suppliers. We know each other well now, we also have an app group. My greatest wish is that the wearer and the maker of a garment get to know each other. That is our mission. If the wearer sees what goes into making a garment – making patterns, cutting fabric, sewing, attaching zippers and buttons, ironing, packing, transport, home delivery – he or she will handle it much more carefully. And if the maker knows who wears his clothes, he will be proud. He will do his work with even more pleasure and care.”

That sounds great, but how do you do that?

“We are already putting it into practice. For example, our employees from Turkey recently came to the Netherlands and were the first to visit our new location at Schiphol. A few flight attendants were getting fitted and the white blouses they wear are made in Turkey. The makers were glowing with pride and the flight attendants also really enjoyed it. Then we went to the Makro and to an NS station. Everyone, makers and wearers, was beaming. Such an encounter really makes an impact.”

You connect the links in the chain…

“I indeed see that as one of our most important tasks: facilitating all links to create a beautiful product and a wonderful experience together. When we had mastered the Fair Wear part, I saw the documentaries An Inconvenient Truth and The True Cost. Terrible, cotton fields that have completely dried out, the Aral Sea in Uzbekistan of which only ten percent remains… all exploitation of the earth. I didn’t know we were doing so bad. Together with the MADE-BY Foundation we then looked at all options. Ultimately, there was only one sustainable solution: reusing raw materials. This does not exhaust the earth and create waste. Then we just started. We now ask all our customers to return their clothing, and we have developed a complete return system for this. The clothing is shredded in Turkey and the strips of fabric are made into fibers. The fibers – 50 percent recycled polyester and 50 percent recycled cotton – are spun into yarns and voilà: the new raw material for our clothing.”

What role do the production partners play?

You really need each other for such a process. During our annual trip and via the app we continue to talk to each other and learn from each other. Together we find solutions. What you need is openness towards each other, which applies to the entire chain. The current chain is a linear model: everyone does their own part. We make it a circle, where everyone is responsible for the end product. Also the customer. The customer is our raw material supplier. Building a circular chain takes time. I understand that companies are reluctant to do this. But folks: we have no choice. Moreover, you get a lot of energy, fun and satisfaction in return. That makes it well worth it.”

This article was written by Judith Munster and can be read in Promz Magazine. Also see (n.d.). PromZ Magazine 01-2024 Archives | PromZ. PromZ.