Lorenz Wagner, the son of the shoemaker Johann Wagner, established the LOWA company in 1923 in placid Jetzendorf, a town north of Munich. The company’s name comes from the first two letters of the owner’s given name and surname, LOrenz WAgner. Passion for shoes and the dexterity needed to make them are literally part of the family’s DNA – a fact that is underscored by the decision of his two brothers, Hans and Adolf, to set up their own shoe companies, too. Lorenz Wagner was a genius when it came to tinkering and was a passionate shoemaker as well. He spent hours and days upon end as he worked on lasts, models and soles. The success story began with the production of traditional Bavarian Haferl shoes.
Passion leads to perfection
Lorenz’s work laid the foundation for the future successes of the company. To him, a product was not finished until it fit and functioned perfectly. He used the very best leather that the region had to offer and constructed stable uppers and soles. The result was durable and timeless high-quality shoes. The high quality of the handicraft in the Norwegian welt-stitched shoes – a manufacturing process that stemmed from the mountains – required Lorenz Wagner to expand his operations in the late 1920s. The first factory buildings were built for this purpose in 1930 and 1931. The foundation for further success was laid with Alpine boots for mountain infantry and lace-up ski boots. At this time, Sepp Lederer, a future son-in-law and company heir, joined the company as an apprentice.
During the 1930s and 1940s, dramatic events led to far-reaching global economic troubles. The Great Depression paralyzed the United States from 1929 to1941 and led indirectly to a global recession that lasted roughly 12 years. World War II also broke out in 1939.
But Lorenz Wagner still managed to navigate his company through the difficult times. But the impact of the Korean crisis severely shook the company in 1949 and 1950. As a result of the crisis, the price of material jumped by up to 50 percent – leather became a target of speculators. The rising costs increased the expense of production while climbing product prices stifled demand. To remain in operation at all, LOWA had to pay high prices for materials. When prices suddenly fell as the company was still trying to pay off older bills, the company became insolvent virtually over night. When Lorenz Wagner died in 1953, LOWA hit the lowest point of its nearly 100 year history.
After 33 years in which Sepp and Berti Lederer reshaped the company by introducing numerous improvements and overcame the company’s low mark in 1950, they passed management of the company to their son Stefan Lederer, the grandson of Lorenz Wagner who led the company in the third generation. Stefan Lederer continued to systematically apply the strategy introduced by his parents by doing such things as developing the LOWA STREET TREKKER.
A shoe empire arises
At the end of the 1980s and beginning of the 1990s, LOWA suffered severe financial setbacks resulting from a series of relatively snow-less winters. As a way of protecting jobs at the company, the Lederer family decided to sell a stake in the company.
In wake of this decision, the company made a managerial change in 1992 that would eventually take the company to unimagined heights over the next 30 years – Werner Riethmann became managing director and led acquisition negotiations with the Italian business group Tecnica in 1993. It is a company whose other brands include Nordica, Rollerblade, Blizzard and Moon Boot. LOWA was restructured for the future following the acquisition.
The company underwent a streaming and restructuring process. LOWA ski boot division became part of Tecnica as part of this work, a decision that brought LOWA’s ski boot business to an end. The company then focused completely on the hiking and mountaineering boot segments. The internationalisation of LOWA became a priority as well, a step that was designed to reduce the company’s dependency on its three main markets: Germany, Austria and Switzerland. But Jetzendorf remained the production location in Germany – one of Riethmann’s key demands – and also continued to serve as the base of the company’s management team and its research and development department. Mountaineering and trekking boots continued to be made in Jetzendorf as well. The 15-square-metre shop in which Lorenz Wagner began to develop his shoes had evolved into a modern plant with 7,000 square metres of space. Sepp Lederer and his wife, Berti, were honoured for their life’s work and became honorary presidents of the company following the acquisition.
LOWA moved in only one direction in subsequent years: straight upwards. In 1994, a total of 1,750 pairs of shoes were produced every day in Jetzendorf. Additional expansions affecting products, structures and sales markets soon followed. The company’s offices and warehouses were expanded in subsequent years as well. The “light” hiking boot introduced in 1995 is considered to be the forerunner of today’s multifunctional All Terrain Classic line. In the summer of 1996, LOWA initiated a joint venture in the United States. A Canadian version followed a few months later. The hot-selling items at the time were the models TREKKER and LADY SPORT.