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Hengst Footwear celebrates 120th anniversary

Hengst Footwear: 120 years of innovation and development.


Since it was founded 120 years ago, Hengst Footwear has grown from a small shoe store in Bolsward to a wholesaler that sells millions of shoes every year to retailers all across Europe. Based in Steenwijk, this family business sets itself apart through its commitment to innovation and development. As the company celebrates its 120th anniversary this year, Hans and Karen Hengst are proudly carrying on the family legacy four generations later – both when it comes to footwear fashion and how the business is run. CEO Roelof de Leeuw: ‘If we keep embracing new opportunities, our company is sure to remain future-proof.’


From bridge keeper to footwear wholesaler

Hans Hengst, shareholder and adviser at Hengst Footwear, recounts how the family business was founded: ‘My great-grandfather Sjoerd Hengst saw a business opportunity in 1901. As a bridge keeper at the Blauwpoort in Bolsward, he would repair the shoes of passing bargemen. If they didn’t come back to collect their shoes, he would sell them to local farmers. In 1901, he opened the family’s first shoe store, which was expanded by my grandfather Johan Hengst after World War II with several stores and a wholesale business.’


Expansion into Asia

Hans’ sister and fellow shareholder Karen Hengst picks up the story: ‘In 1977, the family business moved to the Groot Verlaat business park in Steenwijk. Under the leadership of our father, Sjoerd Johan Hengst, Hengst Footwear embarked on a period of impressive growth, and in 1980 the company expanded significantly. In the following years, Hengst Footwear acquired several locations across Europe and Asia, and in 1998 it opened its first office in China to help ensure smooth communication between Europe, China and other Asian markets. In 2001, the Steenwijk branch expanded once again, while the company’s expertise in shoes, packaging and displays also continued to grow. This allowed Hengst Footwear to better meet the needs of retailers and their end users.’


New steps towards the future

On 1 May 2021, Roelof de Leeuw became the new CEO of Hengst Footwear. Under his leadership, the company plans to make another transition. ‘Hengst Footwear operates in a rapidly changing industry. The pandemic has certainly shaken things up, but digitisation also marches on. That’s why we’re investing time and resources in our online strategy, which includes our websites, online shops and social media. We are also working hard to forge even stronger partnerships with our customers. Together with students at Windesheim University of Applied Sciences, we are investigating new opportunities in the market. We’ll also be further expanding our brand images to create a stronger demand for our shoes and be of greater added value to the retailers that sell our products. In that respect, not much has changed since our company was founded in 1901. And if we keep embracing new opportunities, Hengst Footwear is sure to remain future-proof for the next 120 years.’