Wolfgang Jassner set up underwear company Bruno Banani in Chemnitz and created a cult label.

When Wolfgang Jassner first came to eastern Germany from Baden-Württemberg in 1992, some 320,000 people worked in the region’s textile industry. Today, the sector employs 15,000 people. The key to long-term survival is to offer competitive products, keep manufacturing costs down and create a brand identity that can hold its own among the big names in the industry.

Not for everybody

Bruno Banani was successful at doing all of this very early on, even though relatively few people were familiar with the brand to begin with and the name was met with amusement. Launched as a men’s designer underwear and swimwear range, Bruno Banani was quick to identify gaps in the market and soon stole the limelight with its unequivocal motto “Not for everybody”. “We wanted to be different and get ourselves noticed with bold and daring campaigns,” says Jassner. He and his company have shown that it is still possible to make money in the underwear industry right here in the region.

Bruno Banani in space and at the Olympics

The company’s success can be largely attributed to its marketing strategy. Since the mid-1990s, Jassner and his marketing team have been coming up with ever more extravagant ideas to garner publicity. The Chemnitz-based company really succeeded in capturing the public’s attention throughout Germany in 1998 when it kitted out the crew of Russian space station Mir with Bruno Banani underwear. In its most recent coup, it supported Tongan luge hero Fuahea Semi, alias Bruno Banani, at the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

While one branch of the company takes care of media coverage and arranges for promotional lines to be photographed in locations as distant as Brazil, the Milan office is busy designing the cut. High-quality fabrics are imported from Italy and Spain, but the garments themselves are manufactured in Germany. The company managed to achieve sales of a million euros in its very first year. The brand now generates revenue of around EUR 100 million and employs 110 people, most of whom are located in Chemnitz.

With a view to safeguarding the company’s future, Jassner has been keen to seize the potential of licensing deals for products that complement the main range. “We’ve granted licences for fragrances, eyewear, watches, jewellery, bags, hats, shoes and towels. They account for more than half of our sales,” he says. But it goes without saying that the future success of the cult brand depends first and foremost on the strength of its core products. “In the underwear sector,” says Jassner “it’s still colour that counts.”