Over the last four weeks, we’ve been talking to craft makers and designers along the Danube river, from Slovakia to Germany, in our ‘Makers of the Danube’ series. For our final story, we visited Obernzell, a city in the district of Passau, Germany. With four traditional costume manufacturing shops in a population of only 3500 people, the city has become a Mecca for fans of the iconic Austrian and Bavarian women’s wear, the dirndl.
We talked to Barbara Rosenberger, who, together with her sister Diana, took over the family business ‘MarJo Trachten’ and are now supplying dirndl shops all over the country with their designs. Barbara Rosenberger told us a little more about their company and the importance of tradition:
Hi Barbara – how did ‘MarJo’ get started?
My mum and my aunt founded the company in 1989, and sold wool, buttons, leather products and later traditional costumes. The name ‘MarJo’ came simply from the abbreviation of their surnames, Maria and Johanna. After two sad strokes of fate, where my mother had an accident and my aunt’s husband died, the business started deteriorating. So, in 2007, my sister and I decided to join our forces to bring the company back to its glory days.
How has it changed since you took over?
Our aim has always been to keep our mother’s traditional business alive but to have a more modern approach for the new generation of dirndl lovers. We believe that if tradition is kept alive, in whatever form that is, it is something good. People love these costumes because they are all about a feeling of excitement and fun. It connects you to your past and allows you to be playful, and be a character.
How does a normal working day look like for you?
We do everything apart from production ourselves, so it’s a lot of work! We design the clothes, carefully selecting every element from zip to braid, and then send them to our partner companies for production. I’m in charge of marketing and sales, and my sister is responsible for the design and production of the clothes – she designs two collections a year.
It’s very unusual for traditional costumes to have collections, why did you decide to follow the approach of modern fashion design?
We like to call our style of clothes ‘modern traditional’. We always look at current fashion trends and try to incorporate them in our clothes. Traditional costumes don’t have to be boring. They should be trendy and fashionable. This was a new approach and has proven to be successful.
How have the younger generation responded to your designs?
Our target audience consists of 80% women and most of them are between 16 and 30, or older but still very interested in fashion. Generally, they are quite young, which shows again how relevant traditional costumes are.
That sounds quite popular – are traditional clothes important in German culture?
There is a famous Bavarian quote: ‘Mit der Tracht ist man immer gut angezogen’ (‘you always look good in a traditional costume’). Some people wear them daily, but here at MarJo, we focus on traditional clothes for special occasions, such as folk festivals, themed parties, weddings, etc. – wedding dirndls are very popular!
There are still a lot of people who take traditional costumes quite seriously and don’t want others to wear them unless they are from the region. I disagree with that. I think if you like those clothes, you should wear them. And most importantly, you should feel beautiful.
How important are traditional costumes to Obernzell and Passau?
Obernzell has always had a long tradition of folk clothes. With a population of 3500, we have four traditional costumes shops. So, if you are looking for a dirndl in the city, you will most certainly find something. That’s the reason why a lot of people travel to Obernzell to buy them here. There are not so many traditional clothing shops in Passau, because everyone knows you’ll find a larger variety in Obernzell.
Obernzell is a city on the Danube – what does the river mean to you?
Personally, the Danube has always played an important role in my life because my parents’ house is directly on it. I love to see ships go by, with people waving and having a good time. It feels like a holiday at home. And it also symbolises an emotional attachment to my home town, which is essential in my profession.
What does the future look like for MarJo?
We have big plans to extend our product range and create even more designs. It’s great that more and more people have become interested in Bavarian culture. Northern Germany, Holland and Switzerland all have their own Oktoberfest in their cities and come to us for their costumes.
It is interesting to see that once people buy their first dirndl, even if it is only for a motto party (theme party), they start to like it and invest in beautiful, high-quality ones. We want to show the world our personal interpretation of traditional costumes and open it up to anyone. Not just for us Bavarians but also for the rest of the world.
Thanks for chatting, Barbara, and we can’t wait to see MarJo’s next collection!