We sit back and reflect on the past months far too seldom. Flipping backwards through our calendars, remembering all amazing, surprising and exhausting moments make it clear how much you have moved together as a team over the past year.
Almost exactly four years ago we sent out the first pairs of Wildling shoes to our crowdfunders, with pounding hearts. Unfortunately, it later turned out that the shoes’ fabric bled out heavily and almost put an end to the Wildling Shoes project before it really started. Luckily, our customers continued to believe in us and carried us through this crisis with a lot of heart, otherwise I could not look back on another incredibly exciting year. I would like to share a few highlights with you.
The pack is growing
Over the past year the team has grown strongly. Over 100 Wildling employees scattered across all of Germany are now working on a variety of different tasks and challenges. To enable such a large group and all the new people, to grow and work together as a team in a unique company structure such as ours, our People and Culture team has worked hard and passionately to create the conditions and environment that make this possible.
Since the middle of the year, a fair salary concept is in place to ensure that comparable work is paid equally and that the gap between higher and lower salaries does not grow too large. The work on this is far from complete - “fairness” is a very complex goal - but the first step has been taken and it feels good.
In order not to lose contact with each other in our remote way of working, we meet personally every 6-8 weeks. For this purpose we renovated an atmospheric old building in the beautiful “Oberbergische Land” in Germany and were able to move into it in spring. Our company office and conference rooms are now located there, which are also available to some team members for overnight stays.
This is also the place where last summer we celebrated our first summer party and created some amazing memories that many of us will certainly look back on with a lot of joy.
Trying new things
In order to offer our team members more places to meet up and work together, we thought of a new concept: A showroom with a co-working space. In the front there is a shop where we can welcome and advise customers while they can try on the current collection of Wildling shoes and place an order. In the rooms in the back there is a space for all Wildling employees to meet up, work and network. The first showroom in Cologne celebrated its opening in July, the second one followed in September in Berlin.
Also in 2019, after almost three years of development, we were able to launch our knitted shoe model “Nebula”. The Nebula is a completely new shoe with a new production method and extremely light wearing comfort. Due to the knitted manufacturing process, there is almost no material waste in the production. Inside the shoe pure Merino wool is knitted, therefore the shoe can be worn barefoot. Due to the unique way of knitting, the shoe fits around the foot like a sock and is permeable to air at the bottom. We are all very excited about this shoe and are looking forward to further developing this production method and to breaking new ground.
Attention from the media
By winning the “NRW Gründerpreis” (an award for innovative entrepreneurs) at the end of 2018, Wildling also received quite some attention by the media in 2019 leading to many interesting encounters. Among others, Daniel Aßmann (anchor of a local TV format) visited us and made a story about Wildling Shoes in “Das Beste im Westen” (“The Best of the West”). Also, the WDR Lokalzeit (regional news) made a really great story about us. The wonderful community around “Creative Mornings” invited us to their talks at the church of St. Michael in Cologne to tell our story of how life’s detours led us to start Wildling Shoes. And Frank Schlieder interviewed us in his Podcast about the foundation, courage and change: https://slalom.podigee.io/23-annayona und https://slalom.podigee.io/24-annayona2(unfortunately all mentioned sources are only available in German).
Be active and get involved
2019 was a year in which we focused very much on the company’s social responsibility and how to best meet it. However, this is a very big task that can only be approached step by step.
The Global Strike Day on May 24th marked the beginning of our search for the right path. Together with Stephan Schaller from CSCP Wuppertal, we worked out the most important steps on the way to better sustainability and, over the past year, have further elaborated and promoted these steps with the whole team. In September, we reported on our progress at the next Global Strike Day and then took to the streets ourselves to strike and protest with the whole team.
We also began a cooperation with two environmental protection projects. With the "Over the Edge Farm" in Alentejo, Portugal, we will work together to establish a truly sustainable cork harvest and extract the cork for our shoes there in the future. The "Wildlings Community" in Serra da Estrela, Portugal, is not only connected to us by name - we also want to work together to ensure that the eucalyptus monoculture in the region will slowly give way to a natural mixed forest again. We are aware that these are very ambitious goals that most likely cannot be achieved quickly. But at least the foundations have been laid and the first 20,000 trees have been planted. This was done with both, Wildling's financial help and active support.
Challenges and outlook
Of course, a year does not pass without lows. In the dynamic environment of a young and growing company, there are many challenges that are not always mastered with flying colours.
Not everyone can cope with the special way of working at Wildling Shoes. One has to find their way around, gets lost in too many tasks or becomes unhappy because the needs of the company, their own demands and life alongside work do not match. It is not always possible to be there in time to set the course differently, sometimes it is even impossible to reconcile. For example, last year Wildling lost an important and critical person in the team and had to fill the position again.
What particularly frustrates us is when the challenges of growth are also felt outside Wildling. In the summer, for example, we were unable to dispatch almost all orders on time due to a bottleneck situation in the warehouse. And in autumn we had real problems processing returns on time due to absences and illness. We are especially sorry about that, because a good and personal customer service is very important to us and we don't want to disappoint any of you. A small apology card may not resolve the trouble, but it truly comes from the heart.
We are working hard to become better and better and to handle such bottlenecks more professionally in the future. That's why we have decided to automate some of the work steps in the warehouse next year. You can look forward to new projects in product development and at the beginning of the year Wildling will be joining a programme in New York for three months as the winner of the German Accelerator.
I'm really excited about what the New Year will bring and I really hope that our paths will cross, in whatever form.
But first of all, I wish you a relaxing holiday with your loved ones and a good start to a healthy and happy 2020!