From a mass-market furniture producer to a small, high-end manufacturer, from solid standard to sophisticated and nonetheless distinctive upholstered furniture. They are as distinctive as they are comfortable, often with an unorthodox shape, always covered in velvet and as brightly colored as a bird of paradise – essentially “True Characters”. And the people behind the products are as well: individualists full of energy, ambition and determination. They are the reason Bretz has been able to undergo a constant change while still remaining true to itself.
Back then the company produced mesh wire for fences, followed by mattresses. Johann’s son Alexander, though, expanded the product range to include upholstered furniture and increased the number of employees to 100. But then the company was hit by World War II and the entire factory site got destroyed. Alexander Bretz, however, showed entrepreneurship and courage and rebuilt the company immediately – it rose again like the phoenix from the ashes. It was in the mid-1970s when the company experienced its heyday: Bretz was the major employer in the area. Alexander’s children, among them Karl-Fritz Bretz, contributed to this rehabilitation.
Karl-Fritz Bretz, the third generation of the Bretz family, experienced not only the company’s heyday in the mid-1970s when the factory employed 1,600 people, but also its decline due to the oil price crisis, recession, and the unfortunate purchase of another company. In 1986 the Bretz company had to go into administration. Just one year later, though, Karl-Fritz refounded the company together with five former employees – and asked his sons for support. This ushered in a new era of the Bretz company.
“It was actually totally stupid”, explains Norbert Bretz regarding the decision to save the company together with his brother Hartmut in 1992. Their father had asked them to do so – and they agreed; even though they had long since left Gensingen and had both started a life of their own. But the brothers had grown up with the furniture and the company, with a sense of family and a certain responsibility towards the area, as Bretz used to be the major employer there. And, of course, also ambition played a major role: “We were just excited by the challenge.”
But Norbert and Hartmut Bretz, the birds of paradise, didn’t want to go mainstream. No more kidney-shaped tables, stiff sofas for “the best room in the house” or “Gelsenkirchen Baroque” style? No way! Go away! They believed in sofas and armchairs with soft contours, comfortable seat depths, and vibrant colors, as this furniture looked like comic books, fun, and Keith Haring’s pop art. “We just loved this”, says Norbert Bretz.
As more and more cheap copies started arriving from Eastern Europe, the Bretz brothers transformed the company into what it is today: a luxury brand that consistently exceeds the limits by refining exaggeration – extra-big, extra bright, and extravagant – and, therefore, globally successful and distinctive.
Today, a total of around 90 people are working again at Bretz in Gensingen. Furthermore, in addition to the shop-in-shop concessions, there are six company-owned stores as well as nine dealer-run brand stores; export has a share of 40 percent. And the aim is to extend this potential. Since October 2018, the company has been headed by the fifth generation of the Bretz family: Carolin Kutzera followed her father Hartmut Bretz and now leads the company together with her uncle Norbert Bretz. They are looking into the future with self-confidence!
She knows: “Say no to normal” should not just be an empty word, but remain the company’s slogan for the future years. Extraordinary design may only be realized if the workmanship can keep pace. With every new design, sewers and upholsterers rise to top form. And if you visit the factory buildings in Gensingen, you will see at a glance: at Bretz, design and craftsmanship go hand in hand. And there is a lot of know-how behind the scenes.
Due to ethical reasons, Bretz started to refrain from processing leather in 2015 and today uses solely velour fabrics of the highest quality. There is hardly any other brand in the world that is so highly experienced in manufacturing this fine, resistant, but at the same time also “stubborn” material.
How to keep the velour moving when you fold and quilt it, how to get the velour showing its shimmering surface by using curves and edges – nobody knows this better than the experts from Gensingen. Maybe because they allow the fabric to be what everybody at the Bretz company is: a true character.
Have a look at our film “Bretz Design and Production 2020” and learn how the colorful Bretz Characters come to life.