Webervogel from Leipzig is weaving a new future

Creativity fills the air, along with a sense of fun and plenty of team spirit. “Working here is a dream,” says Johanna Kwaschik (35), a trained weaver who studied textile art in Schneeberg, in the Erzgebirge region of Saxony. Since June she has worked for Webervogel, a fledgling company in west Leipzig situated just a stone’s throw from the city’s well-known former cotton-spinning mill. Webervogel produces handwoven fabrics for the international fashion elite and is run by Catherine Chalk, an energetic Frenchwoman who ended up in Leipzig quite by chance when her husband took a job here. Chalk had originally intended to retire in Saxony after a 30-year career managing large textile companies in Africa and France. But that was before she heard about Leipzig’s long and successful tradition of textile manufacturing – the city was once home to the largest and most innovative cotton spinning mill in Europe.

Luxury from Leipzig

Catherine Chalk’s fingers itched to combine the city’s textile heritage with her years of experience, and it didn’t take the designer long to make up her mind. “We set up Webervogel with private funds and now produce traditionally handwoven designer fabrics,” she says. “That means we use typical 19th century weaving techniques to make our textiles. However, our designs and many of our yarns are very modern.” The workshop’s long shelves are lined with reels of thread in different colours and materials, from delicate silks and soft chenilles to sparkly metallic yarn – there’s something for every taste. Chalk aims to finish her first collection of 200 sample fabrics by the end of September and will then market them to well-known labels in France, Italy and the rest of Europe. She already has a long list of contacts from her years in the fashion industry and knows that demand is always high for exclusive fabrics. “There’s no slowdown in the luxury market. Leipzig is a great location for us to expand into Eastern Europe, where an increasing number of people are now able to afford luxury goods and eager to buy them.”

Rekindling the textile manufacturing industry in Leipzig

Chalk is impressed with the friendly nature and general attitude of the Saxons. “People here work very hard, and I really value that,” she says. The textile specialist found all 13 members of her international team in Saxony. They include Faida Tshimwanga (34) from Congo, who works as a tailor for Chalk, and Evelyn Schmidt (58), a native of Leipzig and trained textile designer who worked outside the region for many years and has now returned home to Saxony. Mercedes Cendan, Chalk’s assistant, originally comes from Spain and discovered Webervogel via Leipzig’s international community. A mix of English, German, Russian, Spanish and French is spoken in the workshop. Chalk has the ambitious goal of creating more jobs in Leipzig in the near future and has set herself a time frame of six to seven years to build up Webervogel. “By that time, the young women here should have worked their way up to become department managers and be able to take over the various areas of the business. It’s important for my employees to understand that it’s their own company that they are creating. I have the knowledge, and I’m passing it on to them,” says Chalk. She goes over to Johanna Kwaschik’s loom, feels the woven fabric, examines the pattern, and provides praise and encouragement. It’s another positive step towards reinvigorating the region’s textiles heritage.