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Vom Maschinenschlosser zum Modemacher

From machinist to fashion designer

Today we would like to introduce you to our longtime producer Josef Koch and give you an interesting insight into his life and work .

JB: We have a lot of exciting things ahead of us, great new products are emerging and it was high time that we did an interview with you. First of all - Josef, can you briefly introduce yourself in a few sentences?

Josef: I'm Josef from JOKO Design, a service company based in Kassel, which implements the development and production of products for the clothing industry. We do this for fashion labels and startups from various sectors, including workwear and protective clothing. But actually there is nothing that we don't do - JOKO Design has been working for national and international customers for 20 years.

JB: How did you actually become a fashion producer?

Josef: My beginnings were more as a developer... When I founded the company 20 years ago, the first steps were very much aimed at supporting the fashion industry in the areas of cutting and production preparation. Little by little we grew as a company. In the meantime, in addition to 17 permanent employees here in Kassel, I also have a sewing workshop and a department for product development. Everything that is developed here is immediately implemented in the sewing room - the question then quickly arose as to whether we should also get involved in production. We started with that 17 years ago in Poland and meanwhile around 120 seamstresses work there for JOKO Design. The cooperation is very reliable and of high quality - and our customers are also very satisfied.

JB: That sounds exciting. You also saved a few companies from ruin, right?

Joseph: Yes, that's right. In Germany, the clothing industry has shrunk completely. There is hardly any training in this area anymore - and operationally even less. At JOKO Design, we have also been training fashion tailors very successfully for a number of years - many of them then do further training as pattern directors or designers. The situation is similar in Poland, there are almost no training places for tailors, if at all they are perhaps only semi-skilled in some companies. Of course, Polish companies are also experiencing enormous price pressure, which was made even stronger by Corona. Especially in the last few years, I've heard from many companies that unfortunately had to say goodbye to the market. Unfortunately, anyone who disappears from the clothing industry does not come back so quickly... that's why I've helped three companies in the last two years, managed all the owners, who I was then able to persuade not to give up - and continue for JOKO Design to work. That was really a good experience for me - but also for Polish companies. This has created a sense of community as we support and help each other out. Thanks to this new flexibility, I can now react completely differently on the market for my labels and customers. I can guarantee good quality and reliability to my customers. This is really a great experience - and our customers are very satisfied with everything that we are promoting together.

JB: Well, we're extremely happy. Now, of course, we are also very interested in what you did before JOKO Design.

Josef: Yes, I've already done a lot... I'm quite old, so you've already gained some experience. After school I did an apprenticeship as a machinist, but I realized relatively quickly that it wasn't my thing at all. Nevertheless, I finished the training after 3 1/2 years and then even worked in the profession for a year. Then it was off to the Bundeswehr. At the beginning, only 15 months were planned, but that suddenly turned into a little more than ten years. Within the Bundeswehr, I actually had good opportunities for further training as a driving instructor and was able to work privately as a driving instructor while I was there. That was a great experience for me. After the army, I embarked on a completely new path and was the first soldier to train as a tailor. Of course, everyone thought I was crazy, but I just didn't think too much about it. It was just my desire to become a tailor to make my own clothes. My four-year apprenticeship was really great. After that I went to the fashion school, which, like the training, was paid for by the Bundeswehr. In addition, I continued to receive my army salary and was able to manage two apartments. These opportunities allowed me to continue my education very well. When I finished my apprenticeship, I looked for work as a model maker. Various companies wanted to hire me immediately and I then decided on a sportswear company. There I was also deputy technical manager pretty quickly and was able to gain a lot of experience abroad in various companies in Asia and Eastern Europe.

JB: May I ask which company that was?

Josef: At that time it was the company Brandt Sportive Mode GmbH from Kassel. But then I got another offer and switched to Karl Lagerfeld as head fashion designer and was responsible for the classic suits and coats. After that I was hired for the Daniel Hecht label in Miltenberg am Main. After two years I gave notice and moved back to my family in Kassel. Then I wanted to start my own business. Once again, people thought I was crazy, because it really wasn't easy to start your own business in the clothing industry with a family in the early or mid-90s. But then I got an offer from a group to take over the management of the model department of fashion manufacturer Pierre Cardin. I then worked there for two years. Then the question arose again as to how to proceed. Together with my wife, I sat down and made the decision to start my own business. And then there were a lot of nice coincidences, everything just fell into place. A really nice thing is that I live in Kassel Niederzwehren, that's the origin of many fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm. There is the street “Märchenweg”, where my first company was located. I started with a seamstress, after three years we expanded and moved to another building, where we then worked with 13 people. Then there was a move to the current premises. Yes, almost 20 years have passed and I have to say that I have never regretted this path. I can only recommend it to everyone to go their own way and do what you feel is right. It is important to ensure that you act without elbow-thinking in order to lead a comfortable life. Yes, as far as the insight into my professional career.

JB: Thank you, really exciting insights! What does a day in the life of Josef Koch actually look like?

Josef: Yes, very exciting. I have a lot going on, something new happens every half hour. It's always interesting, diverse and just great to work with so many young people. I also travel abroad a lot and have a great team that I can totally rely on and who have my back. 70% of my working time consists of phoning, answering emails, talking to customers or production and conducting negotiations. From time to time we also have customers visiting, like you for the last two days - and together we take care of new concepts and ideas. So yes, there is always something going on.

JB: Yes, that's nice! What makes you happy?

Josef: What makes me happy above all is that I'm healthy. And that I can integrate family into my job. Yes, that I can shape my life the way I imagine it and that I can also give a lot of people a certain contentment and serenity.

JB: You live in Kassel. Tell us a little bit about Kassel.

Josef: Yes, Kassel is pretty much in the middle of Germany, which is really ideal for me. There used to be a lot of clothing companies in Kassel, but not much is left. I'm now the largest clothing company in northern Hesse and it's really a shame that this beautiful profession is dying out. In the clothing industry, prices and wages are a constant issue, in Germany the clothing industry has almost died out. I hope that in the future there will be more young people who take this path to move things forward. I can also observe this with my customers, where many young people are involved. Unfortunately, there is simply a lack of state financial support here. And in general there is a real lack of support in this area. You just have to be very lucky. Yes, Kassel is a very beautiful city, the room rents and the cost of living are affordable. The many young people at the university are also good for the city. The well-known Documenta - an exhibition of contemporary art - also takes place here every five years. There is the great mountain park and the Karlsaue. For me, it's just great to live here. Ever since I became self-employed, I have walked all my ways to work. I appreciate these walks very much, because I always walk nice paths and I enjoy everything that I see here every day.

JB: Now sustainability is a pretty well-worn word. But how do you define sustainability, especially in the textile industry or in your company and in cooperation with your customers?

Josef: I am very fortunate to have been working with the department store Manufactum for 18 years, who also offer sustainable fashion. Everything that the big fashion brands are committed to about sustainability, organic and so on - we implemented that 18 years ago without trumpeting it around. I also try to work primarily with companies from Germany and Europe. But I also have partners in Asia, where I attach great importance to traceability and transparency. Upcycling products are nothing new for me either - we have often bought goods and given them a new life. Today I'm sometimes skeptical when I read all the sustainability terms that fashion labels adorn themselves with. We go our way, others go theirs. So far I'm totally satisfied with our path, because I can look in the mirror every night with a clear conscience and stand behind everything I do 100%. But you can't stop questioning things. Although I have the impression that the younger generation is doing it quite well - you can see what's going on on the streets. I see great potential there for getting to the bottom of things and not just accepting everything, how, where, who deals with whom.

JB: That's almost a nice closing sentence. I have a few keywords where you can simply answer very briefly and concisely. What do you think of the music? General music.

Joseph: Exciting. I listen to a lot of music, in all directions. Everything has to fit at the right time - from hard rock to classic. It doesn't matter, the main thing is that it intoxicates and invigorates me.

JB: Role models.

Joseph: role models. There are many. It goes from Gandhi… to some politicians who also have good intentions and try to live by them. I think there are a lot of role models to emulate.

JB: Flow. When are you really in the flow, really balanced?

Josef: I'm most balanced when I'm walking my dog.

JB: Inspiration?

Josef: I find people incredibly inspiring. I like to sit on park benches and just watch. I like going to restaurants, bars or just walking the streets. When I go for a walk, I always look for new paths and let myself be inspired by the impressions. Sometimes that is almost too much.

JB: Last keyword - adventure.

Josef: I'm always up for adventure! Yes, I experience so many adventures. A good friend and I often go to Poland together, we always experience something there! Even if we just drive through some woods for hours - we have experienced and seen something new - and that's just exciting.

JB: We've had quite a few adventures together, right?

Joseph: Yes, that's right! The adventure is super, super beautiful. It's just great to work with you and that's what makes us develop such beautiful products. And I think your customers appreciate and enjoy that too.

JB: Absolutely, we feel the same way. We're really happy to have you as a partner, it's really a great collaboration and without you we definitely wouldn't be where we are now. Many thanks Joseph - also for the nice conversation!

Josef: Yes, thank you very much!

You can find more information about Josef and his work at

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