A TEXTILE firm making seating fabrics using nettles has reached the finals of a prestigious business award.
Meltham and Mirfield-based Camira Fabrics is one of three finalists in the category for Innovation in Sustainability in the Lord Stafford Awards.
Camira tapped into expert advice and support from De Montfort University in Leicestershire to develop its STING fabric, which is made from nettles and boasts outstanding environmental and fire-retardant properties.
The company, which supplies fabrics for office chairs and bus seats, employs 350 people at factories in Meltham Mills, Hopton Mills in Mirfield and in Nottingham.
Its new “green” product has already racked up £20,000 of sales.
Graham Berry, technical development manager, said: “We take sustainability very seriously. We look at ways in which we can introduce new technologies that will be commercially viable, offer excellent performance and provide real environmental improvements.
“STING – Sustainable Technology in Nettle Growing – has been developed over four years.
“It is very much a joint venture between ourselves and De Montfort University, who have been excellent in helping us understand the scientific properties of nettles before we start blending the fibre with wool and weaving it into fabric.
“It has also been instrumental in securing the involvement of the Scarret family in Desford, in the East Midlands – a family farm that uses rough terrain to produce the 30,000-strong nettle crop.”
Camira has invested more than £400,000 in the project.
Its commitment is now being rewarded with demand for the product coming faster than it can be grown.
The company said new sites were already being targeted in the East Midlands and beyond – providing a major boost for the agricultural sector that has been hit hard by the global recession and rising energy prices.
Economically, STING will be able to support farm diversification projects, create jobs and – due to the fact it can be grown on land that is unsuitable for food production – means it is extremely cost-effective to set-up.
Environmentally, nettles also provide a desirable habitat for a wide range of wildlife, remove the need for pesticides and boast a dramatically reduced “footprint than comparative products.
Mr Berry said: “It’s a real win-win situation as we are ‘greening’ our operations while adding a great new product to the range.
“Initial signs are very positive and the STING is in place in corporate offices and several hotel chains all over the UK. Now it’s established, we should top £100,000 in sales next year.”
He said: “The fact we have made it through to the finals of the Lord Stafford Awards is the icing on the cake and reinforces the strength of the partnerships between ourselves and De Montfort.”
The project has given the university the opportunity to develop its interest in the production of sustainable materials.
Results from the research have also been used in teaching and in developing future policy in this area.
Dr Matthew Horne, of De Montfort University, said: “This is fantastic news for the region and puts us in pole position when it comes to the development of sustainable fibres.”
Winners of the Lord Stafford Awards will be announced on September 10.