Text: Matthias Köb
Photos: Reinhard Lang
Even the GPS system had a hard time finding the indicated address and during our interview, a traditional Styrian brass band marched by outside. Gröbming is not exactly a place where you would look for a tattoo studio. In fact, even André Zechmann did not really plan to open one, but it happened, and this little town became the origin of the „vegan lederhosen“ – an oxymoron, strictly speaking. They are, of course, not made of real leather, although hardly anyone can tell the difference. But they are tattooed – and produced sustainably.
André, you are professional sign maker and have worked as a graphic designer for a long time. You then started tattooing because you wanted to make use of your talent for drawing.
Well, at least indirectly. I just felt like I couldn’t really use my talent in my everyday job. But it was rather coercion that brought me to tattooing: All my friends have tattoos and had to drive all the way to Graz to get them. There were maybe 50 tattooists in Austria at the time, the wild guys. There was no wild guy around here, in the countryside, and so they wanted me to become their tattooist. One day they took me to Graz to buy a second-hand tattoo equipment. It was all very clichéd: a backyard basement, dark, with an old, torn-up couch and so on. And my friends went, “What the heck, just buy it already or we won’t take you home again!” And the next day there was this guy at my door asking to be tattooed. It was a disaster.
At the beginning I did everything – stars, lettering, you name it. But then I discovered the first realism tattoos in a magazine and thought to myself, “That’s exactly what I want to do.” But first I had to make a name for myself. After all, no one even knew me back then. I had just bought a pair of traditional lederhosen for my brother’s wedding, although that’s usually not my style at all, you know, green knee highs, chequered shirt, hat and all. But then I decided to wear my lederhosen to a tattoo convention. I felt really awkward, but after that everyone knew me. This is how I came up with the idea of making customised lederhosen with skulls and my logotype.
When we started, the question was where do we get lederhosen? We asked several producers in Austria but they all offer bespoke, made-to-order lederhosen only – each with a one to two year wait. There is no serial production of lederhosen in Austria. All the cheap ones are mass-produced in Pakistan and Bangladesh. They are made of four-layered goat leather, meaning that the leather is treated with chemicals and not tanned. That was not what we wanted, and so we decided to have them made by a tailor in Mureck, here in Styria. After a long search for the right material we finally found the so-called English leather, a very robust waxed cotton fabric that’s almost indistinguishable from real leather.
Your lederhosen have tattoo motifs on the front flap, some feature skulls, and they’re not even made of real leather. All this when lederhosen are a very traditional piece of clothing. What do people say?
Some say, “They’re 485€ and are not even made of real leather.” But when I ask them why they would prefer real leather they say they think it’s more robust. And then I go, “ Well, go ahead, try to tear it, stub out your cigarette on it – this material can take it all!” Other said those skulls and images are just kitsch, but interestingly they quickly changed their minds after we were featured in the media more often. Today you can find one of my lederhosen in Gröbming’s museum of local history. Sure, my tattoos are not for everyone, but I don’t consider them to be kitsch. For me, pink lederhosen are kitsch.
What does tradition mean to you?
My home, my town, my region mean very much to me, that’s for sure. When it comes to tradition it’s always a matter of how you see it. I have gained a reputation as a tattoo artist and the clothing line has helped me make a name for myself even outside the tattoo scene. Many people today come to me for traditional tattoos although many think that tattoos and tradition don’t go together well. I think, it is important to value traditions, but they should be allowed to evolve. Change is not a bad thing.
I am a kid of the mountains. My father marked trails for the Austrian Alpine Association for many years, meaning that we were up in the mountains every weekend. I think I was on top of the Dachstein mountain, the highest peak around here, at age 5. I am a little bit of a workaholic, spend many hours tattooing in the basement. You need something to balance this, something I find in nature. And I have learned that my cell phone has this little switch on the top right, and if I push it long enough, it will turn off…
Was your love for nature one of the reasons why sustainable production is so important to you?
Sustainability is always an important issue. Our lederhosen are now even GOTS certified (Global Organic Textile Standard, establishing rules for ecological and socially responsible textile production). But let me be clear: Sustainability is also a question of how much the customer is willing to pay. Some simply find our lederhosen too expensive, they will rather go for some cheap product. There is no way you can sustainably produce lederhosen for 50€.