Proud of more than 160 years of Donders Fashion

We like to take you through our rich history and go back to the year 1860, where over 160 years ago the letters H.F. Donders adorned the facade of a building in the Ketelstraat in Arnhem. This is where it all began, as this small company grew into the wonderful Donders 1860 that we are today. We are proud of that (Textilia, 2023)!

Posted on 27 February 2024

Cloth warehouse H.F. Donders

The Donders founding notice in the Arnhemsche Courant of Wednesday, April 11, 1860.

Donders was born out of a love of craft. The Arnhemsche Courant of Wednesday, April 11, 1860, has been preserved. With on the front page the founding notice of the Arnhem company. Over 160 years ago, the letters H.F. Donders adorned the facade of a building in the Ketelstraat in Arnhem. This was the base where sheets, trouser fabrics, silk ties and ready-to-wear suits were made. Craftsmanship in its purest form, where beautiful pieces were made with dedication, passion and attention to detail.

Herman Frans (H.F.) Donders the founder of Cloth warehouse H.F. Donders.

The new business of clothmaker H.F. Donders on Ketelstraat, in 1874. With mirror glass windows and glass lighting.

The Donders logo: “nooit wijken” (never give way).

The new facade in 1938.

In the late nineteenth century, Donders moved from Ketelstraat to Bakkerstraat.

De Bakkerstraat 6, late nineteenth century.


Donders changed years later to DONATEX and still later to DONAR, which stood for Donders Arnhem Textile & Donders Arnhem.

The logo of DONATEX – Donders Arnhem Textile.

The logo of DONAR – Donders Arnhem.

The fifth generation

On the solid foundation laid by previous generations, the fifth generation is now building its tower. We shifted our course and focused entirely on leather jackets.

At full speed, we continued in a larger space in Duiven. This is where Donders took even more shape.

The new Donders building at Geograaf 17 in Duiven.

Designing and innovating

At age 26 (1992), our current general manager Bart Donders joined the family business, although he did not initially have that ambition at all:

“I wanted to go into fashion, but not in my father Albert Donders’ company. Eventually my boss, Jac Hensen, fired me at the moment our family business urgently needed people. Even though I had a great time there as a purchasing assistant and the feeling was mutual. But he understood the need at that moment and felt it necessary to lend a hand. If I didn’t like it in our family business, he would gladly take me back.”

“The nice thing is that my father Albert (the 4th generation) had laid and left behind a nice foundation with a beautiful building at Geograaf 17 in Duiven.”

The new Donders building at Geograaf 17 in Duiven.

In his new role, Bart set about remediating the extensive assortment, making costumes a thing of the past, among other things. In addition to sales, he began to focus on designing new products and had a new floor put on the company’s premises in Duiven. Setting up his own production facilities in South Korea, India, China, Pakistan, Vietnam and Ethiopia were also important projects after he joined.


Years later, Bart removed the vowels from the name DONAR and changed it to DNR. This was because of the enhanced focus on the niche market “leather jackets” and also to appeal to a “younger audience.

DNR is now Donders 1860

The logo of DNR.

But what if leather is no longer in fashion?

Business was good. But, of course, you’re dealing with the fashion industry. And so there comes a time when leather jackets are no longer in fashion. What do you do then?

“Of course we know we shouldn’t bet exclusively on leather, that’s too big a risk. For that reason, we have always also offered ready-to-wear textile jackets to customers. However, when the market for leather narrowed, we were hit hard. In 2015, we went from 26 employees down to 14 people. I had to lay off people who had been with us for 25 years or more, I had a very hard time with that.” However, this was not the only time Donders had to make difficult decisions, Bart explains:

“Due to additional financial support from clients and the outbreak of the covid pandemic, we adapted our business model at an accelerated pace. This was a kind of forced innovation. Eventually with a major reorganization/automation/rejuvenation and especially a sustainable way of working, we really entered a new phase with our fashion company.”

“Donders 1860 is now completely energy-neutral with 162 solar panels on the roof and district heating from the incinerator in Duiven there is no more need for gas/electricity from other parties.”

Customers' stores closed during corona period

As a manufacturer of primarily leather jackets, aprons and gloves, Donders 1860 was used to having buyers who sold the products in their stores. Then came the corona period, including lockdowns during which stores were forced to close.

“We sell to customers all over Europe, but suddenly that stopped. We had to respond quickly to that, because we had a huge inventory. Then we quickly launched our own webshop, where end customers can buy directly from us. In addition, we made connections with online platforms such as Zalando, About You, Otto and, so that our products are also for sale there. We have also made those connections with the web shops of our Retail customers. The Donders orders their customers place are shipped directly from our warehouse. That saves the stores stock and investments, while we have more reach with our products. It’s true collaboration.”

Donders 1860

Since early 2021, DNR has undergone a rebranding. In this rebranding, DNR was changed to Donders 1860, which is more in reference to the rich history of the family business. The payoff, slogan, brandstory, corporate identity and logos were also modernized.



Sustainability is innovation

The production facilities in Asia in particular, but also in Ethiopia and Brazil, are mainly intended for sales in their own region. After all, that saves a lot of transportation, making it a sustainable solution. Bart points out that sustainability does often drive innovation:

“We are looking at production closer to home, but the fact is that many raw materials simply come from China. What we can do is produce smaller series, which we are now doing in Croatia. We also see in practice that people are becoming more conscious of their clothing. Buying fewer products is more sustainable. That’s why we provide top quality that lasts. Moreover, every part of our sustainable clothing is traceable, so we can prove how we work.”

When we talk about sustainability, we cannot escape the discussion of leather:
“Tanning it used to be done often with chromium, which is environmentally polluting. Natural tanning, with plants, or synthetic tanning, with recyclables, is already a lot more environmentally friendly then. You need less water and salts. There is also a new method coming up, namely tanning with olive oil. About the leather itself we can be brief: it is a waste product of the meat industry. Cows are slaughtered for their meat, we use the residual product to make something useful out of it.”

Long-term relationships as a foundation

“Long-term relationships as a basis is typical of the family business,” said Bart Donders: “At a national chain store, we have supplier number 52. There is no company that works with them longer than we do. I already mentioned that we produce smaller series in Croatia. Our contact person is related to the person who produced for us in the former Yugoslavia decades ago. When employees of suppliers we work with say to us that they want to start for themselves, we look at how we can help with that. Our company looks at the long term.”

Will it remain a family business?

Whether the sixth generation will also join the family business is still uncertain for a while. But Bart Donders is not really worried about that either:

“Everyone has to do what he or she likes. All our children have helped me tremendously in the company, for example to set up the online marketing within our company. My wife Jolanda also helps out; she also makes sure that I can fully focus on the business. Whether the next generation will continue with it, I don’t know. But we can still retain ownership as a family, even if we don’t work in the business ourselves. Then we become an entrepreneurial family from a family business.”

With respect for history, Donders 1860 is innovatively building on a sustainable future.

Bart Donders (the 5th generation) and Albert Donders (the 4th generation) pictured together.