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Glein, Vienna. Searching for truth within materials and ideas

Investing in craftsmanship and in the quality of materials allows the brand to endow its products with simplicity and functionality, prioritizing comfort and balance whilst evoking the appeal of the classics 

Glein Vienna concept store

Glein is a Viennese brand that creates quality everyday products. The team designs them in Neustiftgasse 18, where their atelier and shop is located, in which the entirety of the process unfolds. While Austrian design and architecture is shaped by the influx of Minimalism, the location speaks of the brand’s dedication to enhancing materiality and cleanness in its design. Every item in the shop – from appliances to display structures – is made by the team. All of the furniture is on wheels. «On Monday, when the store is closed, we do photoshoots: that allows us to push everything in one direction to make space for the shoot», says Sebastian Leitinger, Glein’s founder. At Glein, grey is the color that represents interiors; every other piece, including those in wood, like the bed and the tables, is for sale. Working with wood since his high school years brought Leitinger to undertake furniture and product design through his studies, which he carried out at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna, Austria, and in Lausanne, Switzerland. At that time, he was spending his time in workshops and, having friends in fashion, he began to work on a shoe project with one of them. But his first project had been that of a chair, he recounts. The aim was to be able to build it within a given amount of time. It consisted of a wooden frame he could assemble – years before Glein became a reality for Leitinger, his approach was based on production. 

Sebastian Leitinger, Glein’s founder’s background

After his studies, Leitinger was active in furniture-, bag- and shoe-making, and worked as a product and interior designer. As he observes, his problem with working in studios was that «it was mostly about shape, and the design of the product was relegated to the last stages of development. I came from a place where I was cutting wood as the first thing. That was my approach to design. I didn’t like the fact that I couldn’t get to the basics of what I was designing, or what I was working on. For the same reason, I was a fan of purism – of searching for truth within a certain material or idea». Leitinger’s experience in design studios made him see how his perspective diverged from the one imposed by that context. He realized he had to start his own project to pursue his interests. Echoing Leitinger’s experiments in the field of design, Glein was born as a shoe and a furniture project. For the shoe, the idea was to develop an everyday shoe the team would have liked to wear: a leather shoe that could evoke the classics without being bound to the archetypes that defined men’s shoes. The designers worked with nuance on the item’s proportions to create its identity. Keeping its production and the sourcing of materials local was a priority for them. «We spent two summers traveling around Austria, Germany, Eastern Europe and Italy to speak to manufacturers and get an overview on what was going on with leather production». As Leitinger recalls, the shoe project worked; the furniture one didn’t. His journey on the production of leather goods began. 

GLEIN A1
Atelier & Shop in central Vienna

Before Glein became a brand in Leitinger’s eyes, the team was working on shoes, wallets and bags. Each project followed the previous ones with spontaneity. It was through mistakes and attempts that Glein structured its modus operandi and built its network of producers. «In Austria there are no leather workshops. At the beginning, I found one in Portugal that could have suited our needs. It didn’t work in the end, but there I came across a spinning company and I spoke about my interest in cellulose with them». It became a subject they shared their views on and, as a result, Glein started to collaborate with them for its jersey items, such as t-shirts, stepping into the macrocosm of apparel. Having studied economics for two years, the spread of wealth in the world and the shifting value of money, consciousness in productive methods was a topic of concern to Glein’s founder before he embarked on the project. Ethics and the role of materials had been part of his life since his childhood thanks to his involvement in his parents’ woodworking company. Reflecting on his influences and upbringing, the designer notes how one’s surroundings become part of the elements that define how one perceives things. From his teenage years, Leitinger had been asking himself how people can live in the world they aspire to inhabit. Developing an awareness towards the way objects are created, and the elements they are made by, allowed him to transfer what he learned in his youth onto Glein’s ethos, and to keep challenging assumptions. But beauty plays a role in the appeal of a product too. «If you go for a low quality material – with the intention to choose it – you can’t achieve that»

Glein’s shoe production

Glein’s philosophy is rooted in making products that bring beauty into the world while respecting humanity, animals and nature, and its vision encompasses its production as a whole. The store’s customer base is split evenly between male and female clients, but Glein’s core is built on men’s apparel and on their t-shirts. Investing in craftsmanship and in the quality of materials allows the brand to endow its products with simplicity and functionality. As Leitinger explains, «when you prioritize the material there’s no need to lacquer the edges or to elaborate the design further. The material does everything by itself». With items such as leather goods, a raw edge is the easiest cut, and often the most effective if the choice of material allows it. In such cases, the alteration of matter is kept at a minimum to maintain its capacity. For the design of Glein’s shoes, it was about tweaking their appearance in a way that people could still refer to it by keeping a sense of familiarity. Their shoe resembles a derby shoe, but the producer’s take on design confers them a feeling of softness and refinement. Their first shoe project came out of a collaboration with an Austrian company who produced military boots for the country. In order to be able to produce their boots in case of war, they had to source as local as possible – it was prescribed by law. The company maintained two productive units in Northern Croatia, forty kilometers from the Austrian border. Glein’s shoes are sewn and assembled in those two Croatian workshops, which are twenty-five kilometers apart from each other. «In the Sixties and Seventies Austria was a shoe-producing country», the founder recalls. «During the Yugoslavian war, production moved east. There were two thousand people who used to work in the leather industry who were left without a job after the war, who began to make mountain equipment and items such as fire brigade boots. Four factories remained there, so we established that connection».

GLEIN A2
Atelier & Shop in central Vienna

Sebastian Leitinger’s commitment to sustainability

For Leitinger, sustainability means respecting the product itself. The cost of materials does not matter for his team. They source most of their supplies in Europe, and it’s the first aspect they pay attention to. The question for the brand’s founder is to understand whether it’s a matter of aesthetics or not: when looking for suppliers, materials that please one’s senses are often the best sourced ones, but achieving sustainability through the choice of materials does not result in having a sustainable product. «You would say an uncoated leather is better in terms of sustainability. If you cream your shoe once a year, uncoated leather will dry out, as it’s not water resistant. It’s about finding the right balance – knowing when to use a material or not. Finding the most sustainable way of making a product is a part of what it takes to make one». For Leitinger, sustainability is entangled with a brand’s finance management and business structure, which is why Glein operates through direct sales alone and via its website. Speaking of the encounters and experiences that influenced him during the project’s growth, Leitinger mentions his team – without which Glein would not be what it is. Everyone in Glein leaves their mark. «That’s what makes a difference», the founder underlines.

Glein’s team day-to-day work

The main aspect Leitinger and the team focus and work on together is figuring what they do. It’s about finding their way of setting products into this world, as the founder describes it, starting from the choice of materials, to the design of their products, including the brand’s graphic design, photography and its business model. Thanks to the freedom and independence according to which Glein operates, the brand feels no pressure to keep up with the industry’s growth standards. Directing each step of the label’s production allows them to question what they’re doing everyday. «I don’t see myself as a fashion designer», Leitinger affirms. «At Glein we don’t do moodboards. We don’t look at combinations while working on our projects. We work on one product or garment at a time. In fashion design education, people work on collections – on a series of pieces – which does not happen here. For me fashion is about trying where we are in a given moment, which I respect. The way we dress ourselves is a way of testing and redefining ourselves and our place in the world». The team’s work is about transforming what they like, and what they need in their day-to-day, into ideas. «We create items we want to make and own. It’s an approach that makes sense». Slowness characterizes Glein’s productive process. It happened that, after the development of a sample, Leitinger wore it for two years before deciding whether it worked or not. Now the team works according to a plan containing a hundred projects – for items which may or may not take shape. While Leitinger unravels the ideas that accumulated throughout the years, the team’s goal for the future will be to step into knitwear, underwear production, and trouser design.

IMAGE GALLERY

Glein Atelier & Shop
Neustiftgasse 18,
1070 Wien, Austria

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