Young entrepreneurs belt up and cash in

Fashion belts tell the news swissinfo.ch

The snazzy accessories produced by a group of young Swiss entrepreneurs are grabbing the headlines in more ways than one.

This content was published on February 14, 2005 - 15:52

Bags and belts made by Primecut use recycled newspaper as part of their basic design.

The young start-up, based in Wohlen in canton Aargau, has already won two prestigious competitions. Thanks partly to the publicity, the accessories are selling like hotcakes.

The company is hoping to build on this success at the Muba trade fair in Basel, which opened on Thursday.

At 19, Catharina Giese is the only original member of the Primecut team and must be one of the youngest company directors in the country.

Her partners are Claudio Büttler, marketing manager, Reto Marending, production manager, and Daniel Böni, who is in charge of the accounts. They are all in their early twenties.

Early days

Primecut began life as part of a business studies project in high school, with parents contributing the start-up capital.

The mini firm was entered into the Young Enterprise Switzerland (YES) competition in 2003, and scooped top prize. It went on to beat 10,000 other companies in a European competition for young enterprises in Malta in 2004.

The Primecut partners then set up a limited company, and asked the Neue Aargauer Bank in Wohlen to provide office space. Bank director Werner Käch gave them a room free of charge for a year, plus the use of phones and faxes.

"We’ve always been looking for an opportunity to help young entrepreneurs and they came to us with a very professional business plan. They had obviously been well coached by their teachers, and we wanted to help them with the next step," he told swissinfo.

Success secrets

Claudio Büttler attributes much of their success to capturing the spirit of the times: the product is environmentally friendly and includes a social element. Every belt is individual, an important plus in the fashion world.

Headlines are selected from old newspapers and made into plastic-covered collages by staff at Züriwerk Zürich, a company providing work specifically for the handicapped.

The collages are then sent to Meili Huus, a textile manufacturer in Fahrwangen near Wohlen, where they are cut and sewn into belts.

Catharina Giese says the response has been incredible: "Everyone was writing emails, buying and buying."

The firm now supplies accessories to ten shops throughout German-speaking Switzerland, as well as a store in the Icelandic capital, Reykjavik.

But success will depend on keeping up with fashion. Büttler says they realise their product could have a short lifespan.

"It’s very important to increase the pallet of products and stay innovative," he comments.

Theory into practice

While Giese is in her last year at high school, the other three partners are university students. Büttler and Böni are studying business at Basel University. Reto Marending is studying biology at the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich.

Büttler quickly discovered that they could not always apply their theoretical knowledge.

"Things don’t always work out as you would expect in theory," he observes. "For instance, producers take a long time to deliver because we are such small clients. We try to put pressure on them but it doesn’t make much difference."

Marending is concentrating on enhancing the quality of the belts. "We are looking towards making them a little stiffer and improving the buckles," he says.

The team is now considering producing bags on a larger scale, using a Meili Huus partner factory in Macedonia, where production costs are cheaper.

Garnering clients

Key to any company’s survival is a good client base. The team is now gearing up for the Muba trade fair, where they aim to win more customers.

Büttler says there will be an estimated 300,000 visitors at the fair. "If only ten per cent of them pass by our stall, that gives us huge potential for new clients," he remarks.

Böni is hoping that the team members will be able to pay themselves full wages within the next two years.

But money is clearly not the motivating factor. "I’m more interested in the experience of running a business," Giese says.

"It forces you to develop your personality," Marending adds. "You have to make presentations in front of large audiences. You get experience of dealing with delivery people and producers.

"It’s quite something to have your own company."

swissinfo, Julie Hunt in Wohlen

In brief

A group of young Swiss entrepreneurs has set up a booming business producing belts and bags, featuring newspaper headlines.

The accessories are selling like hotcakes, and the students are learning valuable lessons in how to translate business theory into practice.

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