THE STEWARDS OF CENTURIES OF LINEN TRADITION
Flax, the plant that linen comes from, is one of the most sustainable and oldest fibres used by humanity. Dyed flax fibres found in a cave in Southeastern Europe suggest the use of woven linen fabrics from wild flax may date back over 30,000 years. We know that linen was used in ancient civilisations, including Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt. It was brought to Western Europe through trade, and around the 13th century the region had become the world’s centre for the flax industry.
Back then, linen was retted and weaved in each household and was so widespread in use that we still see traces of its importance in our vocabulary today. In many countries, people refer to bedsheets as bed linen, because linen would be the fabric that sheets, as well as most clothing and house textiles, were made of.
We know all these stories because we sat down with Thomas, our partner at Libeco, to talk about soil, linen, tradition and environment for hours. Libeco has a long and proud story. They were founded in 1858, more than 150 years ago, in the city of Kortrijk, in the West of Belgium. Still a family owned business – now led by the 5th generation – they have since grown to be worldwide synonym with the highest quality linen, but their craft has continued to put environment and soil first.
The flax plant grows best in the north of France, in Belgium and the Netherlands. This region’s rich soil and mild North Sea climate, where sun and rain alternate, are ideal for growing a fibre that is known worldwide for its quality. In 2018, about 136,000 acres of flax was sown in Belgium, France and the Netherlands, which represented 80% of the worldwide flax production.
Libeco understood soon that their business relied on responsible soil stewardship. A natural raw material like required a sustainable strategy, and the company could have a role in pioneering sustainable milling models across Europe.
Libeco works with flax farmers, spinners and finishers to create the highest possible added value with the smallest possible ecological footprint. Flax is a naturally sustainable plant – it requires almost no water to grow, no pesticides and any parts of the plant that are not used for textile fibre go to the production of other products, such as food, paper or insulation material.
THOMAS INSPECTING A LINEN SAMPLE
Leaving their headquarters, located not too far away from their initial mill in Kortrijk, we drove past huge signs displaying their commitment to sustainability and showing their carbon neutral badge, which they earned in 2014. We thought about how the company has mastered the balance between tradition and innovation. Reliving the tour that Thomas had just taken us on through their factory plant, where hundreds of people work in perfect coordination supervise in excellent coordination to control every step of the production process, making sure that their fabrics remain leaders in quality. Their philosophy and values resonated more deeply than ever with us – innovating to support the traditions and heritage that can help us redesign a fairer future, where markets respect planetary boundaries.