by Christine Lepisto, Berlin on 12.31.06
The technique for producing fine cloth and sailcloth from stinging nettles has existed for centuries. Heinrich Kranz is reviving the art for the modern age. Encouraged by a customer to pursue the idea, Kranz founded the firm Stoffkontor Kranz AG, and got rights from the University of Hamburg to grow an oversize version of the common weed. The fiber Kranz produces is a legitimate alternative to cotton, with the advantage that is grows like...well, a weed, without the need for pesticides used in the cotton industry--currently accounting for 24% of the global insecticide usage according to WWF.
Kranz is growing the three meter (nine feet) tall nettles on 160 hectares (400 acres) near Luechow, Germany. Plants grow without the use of pesticides and with only occasional application of fertilizer. Each 10 to 15 years, the plants must be replaced. Once per year the nestles are mowed and dried. The fibers within the nettles are separated in Kranz's own mechanical process and then cleaned with a patented bio-process relying on enzymes. The fibers are then woven, also on site, for the production of fabric, bedding, shirts and jeans.
Currently Stoffkontor Kranz occupies 17 employees and has sales of 1.8 million Euro (2.3 million dollars). Kranz's products are now sold through over 1500 shops and over the internet at Nettleworld (German only). His is the only industrial scale production of nettle fabrics.
Kranz is convinced of the potential to compete with cotton. He calculates that when his operations can be expanded to 10,000 hectares, the nettle fabric made in Germany will be cost-competitive with Indian cotton, while offering substantial ecological advantages. A closer review of the webshop at Stoffkontor Kranz reveals that most of the fabrics are nettle/cotton blends, with nettle fibers composing only 5 - 43% of the fabric. One hopes the techniques being used at Kranz lend themselves to fabrics that are majority nettle, and the current low nettle contents reflect marketing strategy rather than technical limitations.
For his efforts and successes, Heinrich Kranz was awarded a special recognition in the Eco-Manager of the Year competition sponsored by WWF's German branch. Congratulations, Herr Kranz, we hope to see your ideas spread widely.
Via ::WWF Eco-manager of the Year Germany (German only)