Textile Jewels Made Of Alpine Silk
Camenzind + Co. AG produces high-quality silk and silk-blend yarns using a mix of new, older and specially designed machinery.
Jürg Rupp, Executive Editor
Successful spinning and twisting today usually requires speed, high output, and low prices in a
very competitive environment. But not necessarily. In Gersau, Switzerland, on Lake Lucerne, are the
premises of family-owned silk spinner Camenzind + Co. AG. It is an astonishing story of success;
the company uses a mix of new and old technology.
spoke to Nicole and Mathias Camenzind to learn the story of this unique spinning mill.
In 1730, Sebastian Melchior Rigert received permission from the authorities of the Republic of Gersau to rot (a process associated with degumming) and wash silk. Rigert was acting on behalf of Josef Augustin Reding, a citizen of the canton of Schwyz and the actual founder of Gersau's silk industry. Between 1846 and 1861, three silk factories were built along the village creek to take advantage of the water needed to power the machines. In 1892, the silk spinning mill changed its name to Camenzind & Cie.
Several additional buildings were erected between 1939 and 1996. In 1994, the company was renamed Camenzind + Co. AG. A new warehouse was built in 1997 and enlarged in 2001 with a new office floor above the warehouse to have everything under one roof. In 2010, a new power station was installed. Since 1898, the company has produced its own power and even sells electricity to the village.
And it is still a family business. In 2004, the fifth generation — Mathias Camenzind and his sister Nicole — took over management. Nicole's job is sales and marketing, human relations, and administration. Mathias acts as managing director but is also responsible for all technical aspects, production, purchase of raw material and information technology. Camenzind employs around 30 people, produces 80 to 100 tons of high-quality silk yarns and twists every year, and exports its products to select customers all over the world.
Silk yarns are wrapped around the needles (below) of Camenzind's unique Racleuse machine and polished to have a brighter luster.
TW: What kind of yarns do you produce? Are they all Swiss-made?
Mathias Camenzind: Of course. We guarantee consistent high quality and reliability. Raw materials are carefully selected according to our own quality criteria.
Our range of products includes only high-quality yarns and twists made of 100-percent schappe silk (Bombyx mori), natural white, from the finest Nm 300/2 through to Nm 2/1 coarse yarn, on cones or hanks. We also provide bouclés as well as Nm 60/2 x 4 x 3 cablés, made of pure schappe or tussah silk, for very special requirements. Our range also includes blended yarns — silk blended with other high-quality natural fibers such as cashmere, linen, wool, baby camel, mohair, alpaca and cotton.
Swiss Mountain Silk
TW: Swiss Mountain Silk is the company's trademark for all spun silk yarns and silk blends. Why did you choose this name?
Nicole Camenzind: Well, we couldn't protect the name Swiss Silk. Eventually, we found the name Swiss Mountain Silk quite attractive, and it's even protected in China today.
The most important target groups of the company are first of all circular knitters, and lingerie and sock producers; but also silk weavers, and even hand tufters and hand knitters using yarns of pure silk and different blends.
TW: What is your company philosophy?
NC: We want to create an honest product whose quality we guarantee and can stand behind. Of course, we are responsible for the long-term survival of the company. We don't want to squander our heritage.
TW: How do you maintain the quality of your raw material?
MC: First of all, work; don't let yourself be affected by price dumping. We buy first-class raw material from loyal suppliers that we have known for many years. And they know that we only accept first-class material.
TW: What kind of machinery do you use in your production?
MC: Cans, draw frames and roving frames are NSC from the Schlumberger days. We have more than 20 draw frames, all scrupulously overhauled. Our mill managers are more mechanics than managers, constantly overseeing all of the equipment.
We only do ring spinning: We have older Zinser frames and one by Rieter. However, to upgrade and modernize our equipment, we invested more than 1 million Swiss francs. Between 2007 and 2009, we bought three latest-generation Zinser 451 models with 384 spindles each. In winding, we have Schlafhorst and Hamel double-twist machines. In 2006, we acquired a Schlafhorst 383 Autoconer equipped with Loepfe's YarnMaster Zenit FP clearer. The 238 Autoconers were upgraded with Uster's Quantum 2 yarn clearers. And, as something special, our yarns are singed and not gassed like cotton yarns.
Basically, the machines are standard, but most of them have been updated and modified to meet our special needs. We may sound a bit old-fashioned in our equipment. However, without all these upgrades, we would not be able to produce high quality yarns like the Nm 300/2.
TW: Do you have some machines that are your own invention?
MC: There is one in particular: As French is the language of silk; we call it Racleuse. The French word racler means "to rub." It is a kind of polishing of the silk yarns to get an even brighter luster. And we always check on the market to see if there is anything that could suit our needs. At the moment, we are doing trials for a customer and striving to do compact spinning for long-staple yarns.
TW: How do you develop the yarns in your collection?
NC: It is mostly the customers that define our R&D. For example, we offered yarns with a count of Nm 200/2. Some of our circular knitting customers asked if we could do it finer. And we did. Today, we offer a yarn count up to 300/2.
Camenzind exports 90 to 95 percent of its product. Its biggest export markets are Germany, France, Austria, the United States and Canada.
TW: How do you see the current market situation?
NC: We see positive signs among our clientele. Our main customers, the Europeans, are used to the situation with the Swiss franc versus the euro. Last year was not that good, but now we see a good mood in our markets.
TW: Is there a top-selling product?
NC: Not really. Maybe I could mention fine yarns made of a silk/baby camel blend, and in the very fine counts a silk/cotton twist.
TW: What do you expect for 2013?
NC: We don't expect too much; nevertheless, the start was promising and we keep going. For the next few years, the main target is to foster our market position — not an easy task.
MC: Silk prices are increasing, but the image and reputation of silk are growing with the higher prices. It is very good for our business that silk is again considered a top-class product.
TW: What has changed in the last 10 years?
NC: Everything must be faster, and delivery times are shorter than ever. Nobody is willing to accept long-term contracts. Some customers call in the morning to order 1,000 kilograms and expect us to send it the same day. At 3 p.m., the shipment is gone.
TW: Why are you successful in a very small market by working with machinery that is not the very latest?
MC: Our job is like a puzzle, and its many parts result in our success. We never make promises we can't keep. And our customers know that.