Dream Weaver: Markus Heller of ALUMO
Think of those exceptional individuals who strive to be the best in their chosen arena: Michael Jordan. Meryl Streep. Elon Musk. Markus Heller, the managing director of Swiss textile mill ALUMO, belongs in that category. Heller has overseen ALUMO for the past 18 years, adding to the company’s nearly century-long heritage. A state-of-the-art weaving and finishing mill in the heart of Europe’s textile manufacturing center, ALUMO is renowned the world over for the utmost quality of its cotton shirting fabrics. With an inherent understanding that superior materials create the best products, ALUMO only partners with top brands such as Brioni, Canali, Ermenegildo Zegna, Ralph Lauren, and, now, BOGA. How did this partnership between a historic European manufacturer and a Chicago menswear start-up come about?
SEAL THE DEAL
“We are considered a small mill. We don’t want to sell to just anyone,” Heller says in a recent visit to the BOGA retail store and design studio in downtown Chicago. “We were happy to work with BOGA because it was clear that there was a strategy in place from the start.” BOGA CEO Jeff Burkard discovered ALUMO during a two-year research-and-development phase that led to the creation of his new menswear brand. His examination of the fashion industry turned up the name ALUMO time and time again, and for good reason. The investigation led to several in-person meetings between Burkard and Heller, and the rest, as they say, is history.
ALUMO’s legend looms large in the textile industry. The company is located in Appenzell, Switzerland, considered the center of Swiss cotton production. Bordering both France and Germany, Appenzell supplied cotton fabrics to the black market during the 18th century reign of Louis XIV, who banned the import of decorated fabrics into France. Switzerland soon came to dominate the cotton industry and became the most important textile-manufacturing center in Europe. Spinning and weaving only the finest extra-long staple Egyptian and Sea Island cottons, the ALUMO range consists of twill, oxford, voile, popeline, plisse, batist/zephir, cashmarello (cotton and cashmere blend), and lamella (cotton and wool blend). By starting with the finest cotton the world has to offer and utilizing first-rate manufacturing procedures, ALUMO’s shirting fabrics boast excellent breathability properties, an exceptional silky touch and luster, and long-lasting durability. Praise in online men’s style forums abounds for ALUMO: “In terms of quality, ALUMO is the best.” “You have never worn a shirt made from a luxury fabric until you wear an ALUMO shirt. For me, it was a WOW experience.”
SHIRTING THE ISSUE
BOGA uses ALUMO Giza 45 cotton in its twill dress shirt collection. Using only high warp/weft yarn-count compositions (the horizontal and vertical yarns), BOGA’s collection also boasts such distinguishing characteristics as extra-thick mother-of-pearl buttons, sturdy inner linings within the collar and cuffs for shape retention, and a flattering slim fit. The result is an extra-fine, high-performance dress shirt. Heller hit upon a hot topic during his BOGA visit: Why would someone spend more on a luxury dress shirt? His succinct answer? “You know it when you feel it.” The majority of ALUMO’s fabric is made with Giza 45 cotton (98 percent of the company’s production; Sea Island cotton makes up the remaining 2 percent). Celebrated for its extra-long staple composition, uniformity, and strength, Giza 45 is some of the finest and rarest cotton available. In fact, extra-long staple cotton represents only 3 percent of total world cotton production. Showing respect for such a fine product, the company then creates two-ply fabrics that are known for their longevity because the ply twist offsets the torque inherent in a single yarn. Substances like ammonia and resins (that “easy-care” shirts often have) aren’t used in the finishing process, resulting in fabrics that are more comfortable, breathe better, and last longer. ALUMO also mercerizes and sanforizes its cotton, which serve to both strengthen and pre-shrink its fabrics.
THE MAN BEHIND THE MATERIAL
Beyond his business acumen, Heller is a fascinating character. The avid traveler and former soccer player (he played for the Switzerland National Youth Team) has lived all over the world and speaks six languages. His former position with international conglomeration Unilever brought him to such diverse places as France, Italy, Greece, Brazil, and throughout the Middle East. And what does Heller make of the current state of fashion? Sharing his informed industry insights, Heller says it’s all about making a personal connection. “Many luxury brands need to be careful in the new market. Customers are doing their research and understand that they have options when buying, now more than ever,” he says. And, while he considers himself a connoisseur of food and spirits (mostly whiskey), Heller’s true passion is his profession. “My job is my hobby,” he enthuses.
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