Production of leather gloves had all but died out in large parts of Europe by the second half of the 20th century. In Hungary, however, this craft has survived. Based in Småland, Hestra has been working with Hungarian glove-makers since the 1950s, and ten years ago decided to build their own factory here.
They chose the Tokaj region, roughly 250 km northeast of Budapest. The landscape along the River Tisza is known for its fine wines, but since 2011 it has also gained a reputation for producing high-quality sports gloves. Here, in the little town of Rakamaz, the Swedish company Hestra has built Europe’s most modern glove-making factory. This light and spacious facility is now ushering in a new era in Hungarian glove-making.
Production of leather gloves boasts a long and successful history in Hungary. For much of the 20th century, quality products were exported throughout Europe – including to Småland in Sweden. Back in the 1950s, Hestra established contacts with Hungarian suppliers. Demand for the company’s durable gloves had increased significantly at that time as a result of the realisation that not only were the gloves useful for lumberjacks, but also for skiers in the highlands of Småland. Yet it was difficult to find qualified seamstresses for in-house production in Sweden, whereas in Hungary there were numerous manufacturers and individuals with the requisite craft skills.
Since then, Hestra has had a strong link to this eastern European country. When a location was needed for a new glove-making factory half a century later, the obvious answer was to set up production there.
“We had many contacts in Hungary and knew that there was still plenty of handicraft know-how to be found that we could call upon and safeguard for the future,” explains Hestra’s Managing Director Anton Magnusson.
At the same time, the company wanted to build its own production facility in Europe. It was already part-owner of two glove-making factories in China, but there were undeniable benefits to manufacturing some of its range within the EU.
“No customs duties, many common laws and regulations and stable working conditions,” explains Anton Magnusson, before continuing: “Transport routes are also shorter, which is good from a sustainability, cost and planning perspective. And it’s easier to produce just-in-time goods to fulfil relevant needs.”
Anton Magnusson served as Managing Director of the Hungarian subsidiary for two years, and now believes that Hestra has not only built a factory, it also built up a great deal of knowledge. Together with experts from the Swedish School of Textiles at the University of Borås, for example, a training programme has been developed whereby skilled glove-makers work in the same team as less experienced colleagues, teaching them practical skills.
“The tradition of craftsmanship that my grandfather was familiar with here fifty to sixty years ago, whereby knowledge was passed down through generations of a family, no longer exists in Hungary today. This transfer of knowledge now has to take place within the company,” says Anton Magnusson.
Such individual training takes time, but Anton Magnusson is confident that the investment is worthwhile. “It not only results in greater knowledge and know-how within the company, but also a sense of identity and responsibility. Like in a big family.”
Since 2019, the factory and its now 110-person strong workforce has been managed by Krisztián Tenke from Hungary. This 41-year-old mechanical engineer has extensive production experience from a variety of sectors. He spends a great deal of his working time on the factory floor and maintains close contact with his employees – listening, explaining, and helping to solve day-to-day problems. One advantage is that Krisztián speaks the same language and understands the culture and the tone.
“We have many amazingly smart and keen individuals in production. It’s essential to have a positive relationship with them – to interact with them on the same level and be part of their day-to-day life,” says Krisztián.
Hestra Hungary is affiliated with BSCI (Business Social Compliance Initiative), an EU organisation that audits working conditions in the textile industry, and is currently undergoing the extensive certification process. As Krisztián puts it: “This should be an attractive and safe workplace with humane working hours, fair pay and the highest level of safety.”
The facility in Rakamaz turns out between 100,000 and 150,000 pairs of sports gloves per year – and every pair must maintain the highest of standards in terms of quality and environmental impact. Since 2015, the company has held certification under the global ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 standards, covering quality and the environment.
“Each employee and each work team, regardless of the phase of the manufacturing process, bears responsibility for the quality of their work,” explains Krisztián.
“The products are double-checked before being passed to the next stage of production. And we have two quality inspectors who scrutinise all the details before the end product is dispatched.”
The results make Krisztián proud. The fact that Småland gloves from Hungary are now valued throughout the world makes him happy both as factory manager and as a Hungarian.
“At a management meeting the American Sales Manager came up to me, shook my hand and thanked me for the quality of the gloves we produce in Rakamaz. This makes you feel that the investment in the new generation of Hungarian glove-making craftsmanship has been worth every penny.”