BERLIN — Klaus Steilmann, the former German apparel producer, died after a long illness in his hometown of Bochum over the weekend. He was 80 years old.

Once Europe’s largest apparel manufacturers, Steilmann founded the company that bore his name in 1958. Under the motto “Fashion for millions, not for millionaires,” the Steilmann Group was a major producer of private label fashion for Marks & Spencer, C&A, Peek & Cloppenburg, Karstadt and Kaufhof, among others.

This story first appeared in the November 17, 2009 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

In 1987, Steilmann signed with Karl Lagerfeld to manufacture his KL by Karl Lagerfeld sportswear collection, an association that lasted eight years.

In 1991, at the height of its success, the Steilmann Group generated sales of about 1.8 billion German marks, or $1.09 billion, and employed more than 18,000 people.

Changes in market structure, price pressures and the problem of succession after Steilmann stepped down in 1999 led to a series of restructuring efforts and management shifts. In 2003, Miro Radici AG bought several Steilmann companies, and acquired the remainder in 2006, thus saving the group from bankruptcy.

Steilmann was an ardent soccer fan, and as a member of the Club of Rome since 1999, was an early supporter of sustainability in apparel production.

He is survived by his wife, Ingrid, and three daughters, Britta, Ute and Cornelia.

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