This Izegem family has been making paint brushes for 175 (!) years: “Every year, four million brushes roll off the production line”

This Izegem family has been making paint brushes for 175 (!) years: “Every year, four million brushes roll off the production line”
This Izegem family has been making paint brushes for 175 (!) years: “Every year, four million brushes roll off the production line”

When Jean Colpaert put together his first paintbrush in Izegem in 1847, not a hair on his head thought that 175 years later his family business would have grown into one of the authorities within the paintbrush world. Brush factory Colpaert is almost as old as our country, but very much alive. “Here, 16,000 paintbrushes roll off the production line every day”, it sounds proud.

The story of Brush Factory Colpaert reads like a novel. In the forties of the nineteenth century, Jean Colpaert moved from Ghent to Izegem, where in 1847 he started a modest brush factory from the ground up. Jean, who had thirteen children, made his very first brush in Kruisstraat, right in the center of the city. In this way, he unconsciously laid the foundation for a family tradition that is now 175 years old.

Pure craft

Until just before the Second World War, the descendants of ancestor Jean still produced all kinds of brushes. “That ranged from shaving and household brushes to paint and hair brushes,” recalls fifth generation Ludo Colpaert (69).

After the war, pig bristles, which were then most commonly used to make brushes, were very limited. That caused Ludo’s father Julien and uncle Marcel to focus on a niche: paintbrushes. “Since then, our focus has been entirely on that segment.”

“We produce more than four million paint brushes on an annual basis. We are the market leader in our own country”

Ludo joined the company in 1975 and took over the business, which currently has six employees, in 1988. He was fully committed to innovation and automation. “A large part of our production process is automated, but at the same time we practice a pure craft, with actions that have hardly changed in 175 years.”

The strength of Colpaert’s paint brushes lies in the top quality, you can hear. “We go for the very best. Unlike many others, we still produce locally and have the entire process in our own hands. From hairs to the final paint brush: not a single detail is lost to our eye.”

The Colpaert brushes are extremely popular. “Around 16,000 roll off the production line here every day.” On an annual basis, even more than four million units. A hallucinatory number. “That’s right,” Ludo smiles.

“We make private label brushes. This means that our customers can place their own name or brand on the products. So you will not find a brush with our name in any DIY store. But almost every Belgian has one of our paint brushes at home or has already used it. We are the market leader in our own country.”

The fact that one’s own company name is not used as a brand is a conscious choice. “We are very flexible in this way. On the one hand, we have a fixed range, but we also respond to the wishes of the customer. We take on any challenge.”

The past two years have been some of the best in history, as it turns out. “It may sound strange, but that is precisely because of the corona pandemic. During the lockdowns, many people started working, which boosted our sales.”

Growing abroad

They have also gone for the Izegem brushes of the Colpaert family across the borders. “Thirty percent of our production goes to neighboring countries. The Netherlands, France, Germany, Great Britain…”

Ludo Colpaert and co will not let the 175th anniversary of the family business just pass by. Unizo awards them the Handmade in Belgium label and Ludo also symbolically passes on the torch to the new managers and owners, Dries Lescouhier and Jill Vanderstraeten.

“My son Dominiek is an artist and my daughter Julie works as a journalist. There was therefore no succession within the family, but with Dries and Jill the future is assured. Not a sixth Colpaert generation, but the DNA is preserved.”

“That’s right”, Jill and Dries agree. “We will keep the name and the way of working. Ludo got Brush Factory Colpaert ready for the future, up to us to fill it in in a good way.”

“We mainly see growth opportunities in the foreign market. With a maximum capacity of 30,000 brushes per day, we can also take a few more steps. And Ludo himself will also stay on board. We hope to be able to count on his know-how and craftsmanship for a long time to come.”

Brush factory Colpaert clocked in 2021 with an annual turnover of 1.4 million euros. The paint brushes cost between 1.5 and 25 euros.

Why Izegem is the brush city of Belgium

I was born in Izzegem, city of bustels and skoen, the gentlemen of ‘t Hof van Commerce rapped in the late 1990s. The Pekkersstad in the heart of West Flanders has been the epicenter of the Belgian brush industry for decades.

In the 1920s, around 3,000 people were employed in the sector. “The brush industry already developed in the first half of the nineteenth century from a modest craft activity into a leading industry”, explains Izegems alderman of Museums Kurt Himpe (N-VA).

In the second half of the nineteenth century, mechanization and mass production set in. “After the First World War there were still 41 brush factories in Izegem, with almost 1,600 employees.” By 1930 this even rose to 2,750 brush makers

niche

“In 1929 the world economy started to sputter and that was also felt in Izegem. At the time, exports were too closely geared to Great Britain. Just before the Second World War, 1,375 workers were still working in the brush industry.”

“The brush makers then plunged into various niches, from hair and wire brushes to classic sweeping brushes, and were able to survive that way. Productivity has increased thanks to automation, although the industry has reduced the workforce.”

Today, Izegem still has four brush factories and can still claim the title of brush city. With the shoe and brush museum Eperon d’Or, the city has also developed an important tourist asset about its economic past.

The article is in Dutch

Tags: Izegem family making paint brushes years year million brushes roll production line

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