A small embroidery firm in the Erzgebirge mountains has developed an innovative insole that is keeping feet relaxed around the world

If you were asked to think of a traditional Erzgebirge embroidery business, the makers of Plauen lace would probably spring to mind. But they are not the only ones. In the small town of Eibenstock in the heart of the Erzgebirge mountains, Funke Stickerei GmbH manufactures highly innovative products on cutting-edge machinery. One of its best-sellers is currently the AirSole, an insole that took 14 years of research and development to perfect. Thanks to fortunate circumstances and a great deal of courage and entrepreneurial spirit, these innovative insoles garnered attention worldwide last year and the small 27-strong company saw its global sales soar.

We hot-footed it to the Erzgebirge mountains, where we met up with company owner and managing director Hartmut Funke for an interview. He told us about the search for new markets for his long-established company, the courage needed to enter unknown territory and why Minister-President Kretschmer is coming to visit him soon in Eibenstock.

Hartmut Funke and head of sales Anke Scheibner proudly present their innovative AirSole

Mr Funke, how does air get into the AirSole and what is the link with innovative research?

The AirSole makes use of the specific properties of spacer fabric. This consists of two separate warp knitted textile layers that are kept apart by special connecting threads, a design which allows air and moisture to circulate freely. TITV Greiz, a research institute for special textiles and flexible materials, further developed the spacer fabric as part of its research work. In doing so, it came up with the idea for the insoles.

How did AirSole come to be associated with your company?

After carrying out successful tests, the Institute began looking for a buyer in the industry for its innovative product. We were the only ones who were interested in it. We put in some more work on the insole and tried it out on various test subjects before applying for design protection and a patent. We have now developed other insoles in various colours and designs.

The spacer fabric and a finished pair of AirSole Fresh Green insoles

What other products are you making with this warp knitted fabric?

The latest product is the IR insole, an infra-red insole that reflects your own body heat back to you. These soles are especially popular with people who work in field sales or who are on their feet a lot at work, such as the police. We have also developed car seat covers, seating cushions for football fans and special cushions for hunters.

What advantages do soles made from spacer fabric offer?

Spacer fabric is a textile material, which means it can be washed at 40°C. It adapts to the shape of the shoe. We also stitch certain shapes into the fabric – this automatically gives the wearer of the soles a gentle foot massage as they walk. It’s a well-known fact that massages help blood circulation, and this makes your feet warmer.

Hartmut Funke, managing director of Funke Stickerei GmbH, explains the special properties of the AirSoles.

A campaign on the crowdfunding site Kickstarter got the insole up and running for your company. How did that come about?

Via a trade show contact. We were asked about our product and made aware of the possibility of a crowdfunding campaign. It was a tremendous risk for us because we had no way of knowing whether the effort would be worth it. In fact, at the end of the campaign we had exceeded our target. This was mostly due to supporters from abroad, such as France and Italy, and also Japan and Canada. The Minister-President of Saxony, Michael Kretschmer, also found out about us through our crowdfunding campaign. He liked our product and what we stood for so much that he’s coming to visit us soon to pick up his soles in person. All this has encouraged us to repeat the exercise and we will be launching the next crowdfunding campaign in October.

How important are Saxony and the wider region for your company

For the AirSole, we have established a cooperation chain entirely within the region. The research institute in Greiz, which manufactures and supplies the spacer fabric especially for us, and all the other companies involved in the production process come from here. That would probably be impossible without the long tradition of textile manufacturing in Saxony.

Click here for the Kickstarter project.

All photos © Mirko Mühlisch