It sounds like a common enough story. Freshly minted parent can't find chemical-free clothing for their new-to-the-world child. What makes this version different from so many of the introductions found on new green apparel websites, is that it happened 32 years ago. Heinz Hess created organic clothing for his son, and in doing so pioneered a corporate ethic, through his firm Hess Natur, that is only now being taken up by the most enlightened of businesses.
A model of responsible enterprise that is soon to be making its presence felt in North America. A German clothing company that pays 40% more than they could for their cotton, one that teaches farmers and their families to read and write, that sources silk from what they believe is the only organic silk farm on the planet. The impressive story after the fold.The Mission
The Hess Natur mission is: "Human beings should live in harmony
with each other and with nature. Respect for the planet and its people is fundamental to the way we do business, interact with our customers, our partners and each other. We will not compromise our environmental integrity or our design aesthetics."
How does this play out in the real world?
The company's cotton is 100% organic. Due to the limited supply of other organic materials they aren't able to offer the full 100% but still include impressive percentages. For example, 54% of their silk is organic, as is 20% of the wool and linen they select. All fabric used in the baby range is 100% organic. Where they can't arrange for completely organic raw materials Hess Natur still maintain that they won't source from farms that use synthetic fertilizers, insecticides or pesticides. Nor those that practice embryo transplants, genetic experiments or modification.
They also use Peruvian alpaca, Australian wool, Mongolian cashmere and yak wool, along with hemp and mohair.
Buttons are of such materials as ivory nut, wood, horn, or mother-of-pearl. Metal componentry is nickel-free and chrome-free
A similar level of rigour is self imposed on their manufacturing. No harmful chemical substances are used in any aspect of producing apparel. They steer clear of dyes or finishes that can harm the environment or personal health. When Hess Natur do use synthetic dyes [with some fabrics these have better colourfastness and less leaching in laundering] they use only fiber-reactive dyes that contain no heavy metal, known carcinogens, or other toxic substances. The water from dyeing and other processing is run through at multi-stage water treatment facility before returning to the local rivers or water supply.
As noted above in their mission statement Hess Natur want to look after people as much as they do the planet. To this end they not only avoid exposure to chemicals in farming and manufacture but also seek to ensure the workers creating their product, all the way from the field on out are treated justly.
In 2002, Hess Natur developed an innovative control and inspection system that ensures humane production, known as their Clean Clothes Campaign. Three years later, Hess Natur was the first German company to be certified by the FairWear organization.
Hess Natur works with the Grameen Foundation to support its work in "improving the social standards for the workers and by introducing organic manufacturing processes that can improve their health and living conditions." The company pays a 50% bonus over fair purchase price, with the funds going directly to the Grameen Foundation
In another partnership, this time with the independent development association, Helvetas, Hess Natur started a West African organic cotton project in Burkina Faso. Within two years more than 2000 farmers cultivated over 400 tons of organic cotton on nearly 5000 acres. Hess Natur and Helvetas pre-finance the seed and pay for the necessary organic certification. Hess Natur pay 40% over the price for conventional cotton, while the farmers are encouraged to plant fruit, vegetables, peanuts, or whatever they want, on the remaining 50% of their land. It is in this project where farming families receive the aforementioned literacy lessons. Earlier this year, in January 2008, Hess Natur was given the Public Eye Award at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland .
The German staff have an organic cafÃ© on the top floor of their office. Family-friendly working conditions include childcare subsidies and emergency childcare services. Commuting by local transportation is subsidized. Staff are encourage to pursue life long learning: "all hessnatur associates may take any classes they wish, from Pilates to design to a foreign language, any subject, at no cost to them. The only requirement is attendance in at least 75% of classes."
Their headquarters in Butzbach, Germany has no air conditioning. The only lift is one used for heavy shipments. Materials and paints were selected for their non-toxic backgrounds. Renewable energy supplies the electricity. Waste separation and recycling are de riguer, as of course is use of 100% recycled office paper. And this extends to catalogues. Apparently even the product bins used in the warehouse are re-used cardboard boxes that vendors shipped their products in.
Ah, yes, the clothes themselves. Well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but an elegant and classical look never goes out of style. And although not cheap, they are most certainly well priced for significant degree of care that has been directed towards them and the people that provided them. The quality? Well considering the company is German, and they've been around for 30 years, we don't think you'll have any problems on that score. As they are launched this month in the US, we suggest you give them the once over and make up your own mind. :: Hess Natur USA