"We are now the only slipper store left in Berlin." Reno Jünemann
"Some told me they find the slippers that old-fashioned and ugly, that they’re cool again.” Reno Jünemann
Entering ‘Jünemann’s Pantoffeleck’ is like jumping back in time. The family store is located at the beginning of Torstrasse where a small door leads to a basement full of typical German slippers. On the many shelves lie about 4000 ‘pantoffels’ in all sorts and sizes, colours and patterns. In the back of the workshop Reno Jünemann (42), the fourth generation owner of Pantoffeleck, is working on some slippers. “Already when I was a child, I knew I wanted to make slippers – just like my father, grandfather and great-grandfather.”
Jünemann’s Pantoffeleck was originally founded in 1908 by Reno’s great-grandfather in the city of Magdeburg. About twenty years later the family moved to Berlin. Reno: “As of that moment our store was always situated around Berlin’s centre Alexanderplatz. We moved around a couple of times because of the economical crisis during the 1930’s, the Second World War and the GDR period that followed. For about thirty-three years now, we are located at this location.”
From fifty to one
Reno started working at Pantoffelseck in 1991 when he was nineteen years old. It was a difficult time: “When Germany was divided after the Second World War, most stores that produced handmade slippers in the West disappeared because of the new market and the competition with other brands and stores offering bulk-bought slippers at discount prices.
In the East on the other hand, where we were situated, it was almost like a biotope. Here there was no competition with any other kind of slipper brands at all. There was always a long line of people waiting in front of our store.” When the Wall came down this situation changed. Reno: “Due to the new economical system, almost al stores disappeared since they couldn’t compete anymore. We are now the only slipper store left in Berlin.
These first years after reunification formed a though period for Reno and his father, who was still running the store. They were on the verge of closing down, but little by little they noticed business was getting better again. Reno: “Slowly our regular customers returned to our store, asking for the original Jünemann slippers. What also helped a lot was the usage of the Internet as we opened up our online webshop.”
Conservatieve and modern
This webshop allows people from all over the world to order Jünemann’s slippers. About one third of the house shoes that leave the shop are ordered over the Internet. Reno laughs: “With our slippers we are very conservative. We always use the similar colours and patterns and produce them the same way. Some slippers look exactly the same as seventy years ago. The Internet on the other hand is very modern, but we couldn’t work without it anymore. We send our slippers to Holland, Denmark, New York and even Japan.”
In 2007 Reno officially took over Jünemann’s Pantoffeleck. Business is going well. There are two kinds of slippers: the pantoffel (the classic slipper) and the hausschuhe (the slipper with a heel-back). Prices range between twelve and twenty euros. Reno: “I can produce about one hundred slippers a day, all by hand. It’s simply faster than a machine and I can respond better on the different fabrics we use for the slippers. I’ve noticed people really appreciate our handwork too.” Reno sells about 15000 slippers a year.
Orange and chequered
There is one type of slippers that has proven itself favorite over the years. “The type we sell the most is the orange chequered slipper. This model still looks the same as one hundred years ago. Costumers buy them because they think they look classic and stylish. Others call them typical GDR slippers, which is wrong of course; the slippers have a much longer history.”
Young people on the other hand have an other reasons to buy the slippers. Reno laughs: “Some told me they find the slippers that old-fashioned and ugly, that they’re cool again.” He continues: “To me it doesn’t matter for what reason people buy them. I don’t know anything about fashion or trends. To me it’s important the slippers are of good quality and that people return after a year of two for their next pair of slippers.”
A fifth generation
Reno’s ten-year-old daughter already announced that she would like to take over the store when she’s older. He laughs: “We will see if she still feels like that in a couple of years. Of course it is a dream of mine that some day also a fifth generation will run Pantoffeleck, but my biggest concern is that the shop will remain open. I mean, my great-grandfather survived the economical crisis of the thirties, my grandfather the Second World War, my father remained open during the GDR and after the fall of the Wall, so it cannot happen that I can’t succeed.”