MEWA history

How a simple but brilliant idea became the foundation of a European market leader

A brand shows presence – 2008-today

Today, you can encounter our reusable principle almost everywhere: More than one million workers throughout Europe wear clothing from MEWA. Our MEWA wipers, foot mats, protective covers, laundry items and brush wash stands are in use is companies in 21 countries. The sustainable textile management concept is recognised by users and it's also in the public eye: In 2013 MEWA was one of the 3 finalists in the German Sustainability Prize competition in the category "Germany's most sustainable products/ services".

Today as well, sustainable action always determines our development. Thus the line of the family-run company is being continued, even after the move of the company's owners to the Supervisory Board and Board of Trustees in 2014. Today the management board is comprised of the leaders of the business areas, Michael Kümpfel, Bernhard Niklewitz, and Ulrich Schmidt, all have extensive leadership experience, and have been closely associated with MEWA for many years. They manage the business in the spirit of the family enterprise and are successfully continuing to implement the strategy of sustainable expansion: The operations in Immenhausen, Hameln and Manching have also been extended, new operations are in development in Saarlouis and in Weil im Schönbuch. In 2015 new transhipment centres were opened in Remy and Prague, another one is in planning in Rome. Thus we are investing in the future. It is not what will be important tomorrow, but rather what will be important the day after tomorrow that motivates us, inspires us and drives us forward.

2000-2008 A European enterprise

With our products we will develop additional new target groups in the new millennium. Among other things, MEWA intensifies its concentration on the development of highly specialised protective clothing and brings a completely new generation of heat and flame protection clothing on the market.

For maintenance of clothing for employees in food production and retail, the work clothing is checked in accordance with RABC hygiene requirements. As the first textile service provider in Europe MEWA introduces the RABC system and works in accordance with standard 14065. MEWA decides to establish a strong presence beyond Belgium, France and Austria, in other neighbouring countries.

By 1996 MEWA companies in Switzerland and the Czech Republic societies had commenced their activities. In the vicinity of Milan an operation is built to support the Italian companies directly from Italy. In Spain the Group founds MEWA Servicio textile, S.L. In France, in 2007 a producing company starts operations. In 2008, our 100-year company anniversary, 4,115 employees were working for MEWA at 43 locations in Germany, Belgium, France, Spain, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia.

1990-2000 Growth through quality

In 1991 more than 3,000 employees work for MEWA at 21 locations. Within the last decade the number of customers grew from 35,000 to 82,000. The Group is restructured in the 1990s and organised in four business units.

Tilman Damm took over management responsibility for Marketing and Sales, Klaus Jürgen Gerdum for Customers and Organisation, Rudolf Küttelwesch for Technology and Production, and Bernhard Niklewitz for the area of Enterprise Service. Gabriele Gebauer and Rolf Beisse make up the Board of Directors. Customer service is further improved: In 1990 MEWA starts with introduction of a comprehensive quality management system and defines "zero errors due to dissatisfaction or complaints" as the company objective.

In 1992 MEWA is the first textile service provider to receive certification in accordance with the International Quality Assurance Standard DIN ISO 9001. The decades of improvements in the environmental technology are officially confirmed in 1997. MEWA is the first company in the industry to be certified in accordance with ISO 14001. In addition, the management team decides to extend the portfolio of the company. With the business unit, "MEWA Technical Retail", from the mid-nineties on the firm offers its customers a complete assortment of occupational health & safety items, and technical supplies for purchase via catalogue.

1978-1990 Environmental protection takes precedence over expansion

In 1980, with the granddaughter of company founder Hermann Gebauer, Gabriele Gebauer, and her husband Rolf Beisse the third generation takes over the leadership of MEWA. In the early 1980s they provided new emphasis with the concept: We want to be the best for our customers. We want to be the best for our customers. Yet with the same commitment, with which the service concept had been implemented in the company, MEWA technicians and engineers devoted themselves to environmental protection. Early-on the motto of the new MEWA Managing Director was: Environmental protection takes precedence over expansion.

By the mid-1970s MEWA had installed the first wastewater treatment plant conceived by a company itself. It pointed the way for the state of the technology.

MEWA engineers were particularly proud of the sophisticated system for saving energy. In addition to energy recovery of the recycling oil obtained from the cleaning process in wastewater treatment, in 1980 the first heat exchangers and co-generation plants were implemented.

With setup of a new sales system the market position in Germany, Austria, Belgium and France was extended.

1960-1978 Work clothing in full service

With contemporary products, modern technologies and new locations in the other European countries, MEWA conquered new markets in the 1970s. Käthe Draub, widow of Hermann Gebauer's son who died in the Second World War, has been the head of the enterprise since 1961. In 1965 she moved the Group's administrative headquarters to Wiesbaden. In 1968 the location of corporate headquarters changed, and the offering was also extended.

Work clothing in the textile service. Customers liked the new business idea.

Work clothing rental in the service package – this was something new in Germany. The demand was incredible. At the end of 1969 MEWA outfitted more than 10,000 persons. For example, even though the laundry facilities in Hameln initially operated around the clock in 3-shifts, it was just barely possible to handle the order volume.

The industrial processing of textiles commenced in grand style: The laundry facilities for work clothing got washing machines/centrifuges, dryers and tunnel finishers, and thus it was possible to ensure proper care and maintenance for the customers. A few years later, modern washing lines, presses and dryers replaced old counter-current equipment and centrifuges in the wiper laundry facilities. In addition, EDV moved into operations and customer support.

In 1974 MEWA took the bold step into foreign markets and established a site in Belgium. In 1975, MEWA acquired the Habsburg-Excelsior Group. In 1978 business activity was extended to France.

1945-1960 Reconstruction after the Second World War

After the Second World War Hermann Gebauer began to re-establish his enterprise, from Nuremberg. In a short time the branch offices in Nuremberg, Munich, Neu-Isenburg, Mönchengladbach, Stuttgart and Hamburg, which to a great extent had been destroyed in the war, were put back into shape and resumed operations.

Old regular customers like the Reichsbahn, the Bundesbahn as it is called now, as well as Volkswagenwerke, announced their return. But also new customers, such as newspaper publishers, were interested in the MEWA replacement system.

On New Year's Day 1953, factory director Hermann Gebauer died at age 75. Following his death, his wife Charlotte took over the leadership position at MEWA.

In the jubilee year of 1958, MEWA once again employed 400 people. In total, in this year 70 million MEWA wipers were washed and generated a turnover of 8.45 million marks. By this time the wipers were woven in MEWA's weaving mill at the Hameln location.

1908-1945 Weave, wash and replace

In 1908 the businessman Hermann Gebauer founded the "Mechanische Weberei Altstadt GmbH" in Ostritz-Altstadt in Görlitz, Saxony, with 20 employees. The company founder offered a completely new service: MEWA produced wipers for the cleaning of machinery and equipment. "Weave textiles, then wash them, and if they are worn replace them" was the service concept of the young company.

To wash the MEWA wipers, the company founder quickly found laundry businesses that were willing to cooperate and he invested in these laundry businesses. Later in the twenties and thirties these were followed by the company's own laundry operations.
Even at the beginning of the twentieth century there was a growing demand for cleaning materials. Oils, greases, solvents and paints made life difficult for workers in the machine factories, ironworks and steelworks. All too often machines were cleaned almost exclusively with old cleaning rags or cotton waste. After use the oozing rags were simply tossed in the boilers. A solution that was not only totally inappropriate for industrial purposes, it was also a solution that was much too expensive in the long run. Thus the idea quickly became popular.

In the year the company was founded Hermann Gebauer was able to enter his first large customer in the order book: Die Königlich Sächsische Staatseisenbahn, the largest enterprise in Saxony. By 1909 the operating buildings had to be expanded. In the early 1920s the MEWA order book read like a "Who's Who" of the German economy. In addition to the Reichsbahn, names like Siemens, AEG, Bayer, Henschel or Leuna-Werke were on the MEWA wipers.

By the beginning of the Second World War there were 14 MEWA plants in Germany and Austria. 1200 employees supply 18,000 industry and business enterprises in the territory of the former German Reich with machine wipers.