In 1993, Hestra decided to build its own production facility in China. It was an important step towards progressing as a company.
It must have been an exciting time when Lars-Olof Magnusson travelled to China for the first time in 1965. He had just taken over the family business, Hestra, from his father Martin Magnusson. Together with a delegation from the Swedish business community, he visited production facilities in this Asian country – totally unknown territory for him and most other business owners in the group at that time. They were curious and attracted by the possibilities: What were factories like in the people’s republic? What could be learned? And would it perhaps be possible to produce quality Småland gloves in China?
Yes, indeed it would. Hestra quickly found suitable producers both on the Chinese mainland and on the island of Taiwan. Since the 1970s, the company has been collaborating with manufacturers that satisfy Hestra’s demanding requirements in terms of quality and working conditions. Years later in 1993 Lars-Olof’s sons, Svante and Claes Magnusson, together with their long-term Taiwanese business partner Chao Hsi Chung, set up the first production facility of their own in China.
The factory was constructed around two hours west of Hong Kong in the Guangzhou region, with good connections to the metropolis and its essential port. Today, Hestra Eurogant has a workforce of around forty and is one of Hestra’s four global factories, manufacturing between 300,000 and 400,000 pairs of technical sports gloves every year.
Svante Magnusson describes the decision to return to in-house production as an important step in the evolution of the family company:
“While my grandfather produced gloves for lumberjacks in order to provide for his family, the second generation explored new avenues: the company expanded, skiers were identified as a new target group and at the same time it became necessary to find production partners overseas due quite simply to a lack of qualified sewers in Sweden,” he explains.
“During my and Claes’ time we wanted to be able to develop more and more types of gloves with a variety of functions to cover needs we identified on the market. It was essential that the designs we created in Sweden went hand in hand with production, and to ensure direct communication between the development team in Småland and our manufacturing facilities overseas.”
According to Sven Magnusson, another central impetus for Hestra having its own factory was to gain more control and influence over delivery times, product quality, environmental factors and working conditions. In addition, it allowed it to ensure that any in-house innovations remained within the company and didn’t end up with a competitor having gloves produced by the same manufacturer.
Chao Hsi Chung is still the Managing Director of Hestra Eurogant. Since meeting Lars-Olof Magnusson at the ISPO sports trade show in Munich in 1976, he has worked with three generations of the Magnusson-Hestra family. He is highly valued within Hestra for his knowledge within glove production and his contribution to Hestra’s own manufacturing operations.
“I basically know nothing about gloves,” says Chao Hsi Chung himself.
He believes that other skills that he has simply learned over almost fifteen years in the industry are what is important: an eye for quality, the ability to hold discussions with management, designers, and sewers to find solutions, and the knowledge to organise production, stocks, and logistics effectively. And Chao Hsi Chung is not the only one contributing his experience at the factory:
“Many of our employees have worked here for more than twenty years. There is a huge degree of loyalty that we are truly grateful for,” he says.
“Nowadays in China, it is not a matter of course for people to choose a job in a factory instead of a position in a bank, a hotel or elsewhere in the service sector. We are happy to have so much handicraft know-how still within the company and to be able to retain skilled and dedicated employees over a long period.”
One reason for this is that they have created good working conditions for their employees in terms of pay, working hours and physical workplace. The factory has been affiliated with BSCI (Business Social Compliance Initiative), an international organisation that audits working conditions in the textile industry, since 2016.
Chao Hsi Chung also describes how Hestra’s innovative and quality mindset shaped production at the factory from day one:
“For Swedes, it’s important to constantly upgrade everything – products, processes and standards.”
Since 2018, Hestra Eurogant has held certification under the global ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 standards, covering quality and the environment. How the company fulfils the criteria is meticulously reported every year. Two employees at the factory work separately on quality assurance and certification.
“The requirements proved to be challenging at times at the outset, but they were important and helped us to become a top-level, international glove-making factory.”
Even though the factory in Guangzhou is the smallest production unit within the company today, it still plays a central role for the whole of Hestra. The ability to jointly develop products and production at its own factory, together with Chao and skilled Chinese employees, created the prerequisites to become one of the world’s foremost brands for Alpine ski gloves. And the production knowledge gained by Hestra from its first own production facility outside Sweden proved to be highly valuable when subsequently building additional factories of its own in Hungary and Vietnam.
“We owe a great deal of thanks to Chao,” says Anton Magnusson, who is now the fourth generation at the helm of this family company – and is still collaborating successfully with his grandfather’s business friend from ISPO 1976.