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Disana children’s fashion: From eco-niche to trend brand

By Regina Henkel


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When the German children’s brand Disana was founded, eco-fashion for children was purely a niche product. Things have changed a great deal since then. Today, the brand has conquered the wardrobes of 0 to 6-year-olds. Disana works almost exclusively with organic wool and produces wool overalls, jackets, trousers and accessories as well as light pullovers and shirts. Production takes place entirely in Germany. And although the brand name may sound fancy its origin is down-to-earth. It combines the names of Dieter and Imma Sautter’s together with natural fabric. The pair founded the brand almost 40 years ago in Lichtenstein-Holzelfingen, near Reutlingen and have now handed it over to their children Elmar and Aiga Sautter. Today Disana sells its products in 800 shops and 26 countries. From Fairbanks in Alaska to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam.

Rarity: GOTS-certified wool

The brand originated from the production of knitted nappies. “My father had a knitting machine in the cellar and he got an order to develop nappies out of knitted fabric because they are more elastic. At the time, nappies out of cloth were the norm. There weren’t any pampers back then”, says Elmar Sautter. To begin with, Disana processed conventional cotton, but gradually the idea took hold that children’s clothing should also be healthy and free of chemicals. The product range grew and over time Disana switched to unbleached cotton, then to wool, organic wool by the way. Today, 95 percent of Disana’s collection is made out of wool, with an annual requirement of 150 to 160 tonnes of GOTS-certified organic wool. Sautter: “That already makes us one of the biggest customers for GOTS wool. The market is fairly small.” There are only about 800 tonnes on the global market each year. Since wool has become an 'In fiber' and has undergone a complete image change, demand and prices are constantly increasing.


Focus on organic growth

Turnover at Disana has also been growing for 15 years. By up to about 15 percent a year, says Sautter and he thinks that is in itself “madness”. He ensures that the firm grows organically and that he can properly manage the expansion. That is important to him: “I'm suspicious of firms that claim their turnover doubles every year. We can manage our growth with our own resources. We have no investors and no production abroad. We finance everything ourselves from our own cash flow.” All Disana products are manufactured in-house on their own 40 knitting machines. Only the fulling is subcontracted out, to the next village, says Sautter. The certified wool and the in-house production are Disana’s main marketing theme, “which people value very highly”.

High demands on retailers

Disana gets a lot of requests from retailers and has to refuse many of them, not only for capacity reasons. “We set high standards for our trading partners. For instance, we send out a questionnaire to find out what ecological or social commitments retailers enter into, how they make the planet a bit better”, explains the head of the firm. Those who distinguish themselves have a better chance of getting to stock the brand. These are mostly independent retailers, online and with physical premises. We have our own store and an online shop with mostly special editions. “We make almost 99 percent of our turnover in wholesale, the rest online.”

Elmar Sautter / Geschäftsführer Disana

Sales are directly through Disana

Another special feature of Disana: sales are exclusively through Disana. There are no agents. Anyone who wants to work with the brand can only do so by direct contact. That is where tradefairs play an important role. They permit face-to-face contact and the possibility to present innovations. Disana is represented at the Innatex natural fabrics exhibition in Germany but also at Playtime in Paris and Ciff in Copenhagen. Sautter: “I see this as a service to the customer. We do not have a salesforce that drives around the county visiting stores.” The DACH (Germany, Austria, Switzerland) region is the core market with 62 percent. The biggest non-German-speaking region is North America, followed by Scandinavia and England.

Eco-customer or hipster?

And what about the balancing act between the original eco-conscious customer group and today’s hip parents? “We focus on new customers. Our target group is the mother, that is a young woman of about 30 who is active on social media and who perhaps also visits our website. We’ve gotten rid of our printed catalogs.” For contemporary design we have engaged a designer from Switzerland who is a young mother herself and who therefore knows the precise requirements of the target group. However, the collection does not need to change much. Sautter: “In fact, we get new customers every day, so we don’t have to constantly reinvent our products.” Since Disana extended the age group as far as primary school age, the timespan has lengthened until the target group grows out of the brand.

Disana is open to new ideas. That can be seen in a completely different project. Together with FH Reutlingen, the company has just developed a 3D-printed clothes hanger made of wool dust and organic glue in a pilot project.


High value retention of the collection

A Disana overall in the smallest baby size of 50/56 is expensive: about 80 Euros. Two sizes bigger and prices go up to 95 Euros. “We know that our articles are expensive due to the high cost of raw material alone”, explains Sautter. “From one kilo of wool which costs 32 Euros we get just two overalls, without any additions.” Not everyone can afford that, so he is pleased when the items are handed down. “We know that and we also actively communicate it.” Disana also offers a repair service and spare parts such as buttons or cuffs via the website so that the clothing can be worn as long as possible.

Balancing act between mainstream and niche

The fact that Disana might now be seen as the new mainstream is viewed by Sautter with a somewhat critical eye. “It’s been a long time since we were a niche product, that's true. From a purely statistical perspective, one child in nine in Germany is wearing Disana overalls. And of course, we are pleased about that.” He also finds it important that sustainability has gained importance in the fashion sector. But the fact that suddenly, somehow, everyone wants to be sustainable, disturbs him. “Then we lose the unique selling point that has sustained us over years and years.” This problem affects many brands that have become big in the field of eco-fashion and who are suddenly faced with totally unsuspected competition, even from the biggest fast fashion brands. “I defend myself against this kind of mainstream since we do a lot more, not just a little sustainable capsule collection. Sustainability is not hip for us, it's our DNA.”


This article was translated from German.

Elmar Sautter