By  on October 30, 2007

BERLIN — Germany's eco-fashion pioneer, Hess Natur, is actively taking its message — and its product — from the printed page to the retail floor.

Founded in 1976, the Butzbach, Germany-based catalogue house is the market leader in eco-friendly apparel in German-speaking Europe. Among its milestones, Hess Natur initiated the world's first controlled organic cotton project in the early Nineties at a farm in Egypt. In 2003 and 2004, in cooperation with the Fair Wear Foundation, Hess Natur also successfully piloted a project controlling social standards through its entire supply chain.

Although Hess Natur got its start around the same time as the German Green Party and its standards are undeniably strict, it's not just hard-core eco-enthusiasts who generate its annual sales of about 70 million euros, or $99.65 million at current exchange.

"Today, it's normal consumers who have possibly parked their [Mercedes] SLK in front of the door that buy our products," said Wolf Lüdge, director of Hess Natur. "Environmentally and socially just manufacturing is a 'must' as before, but no longer the only purchase-influencing criteria. Quality, color and shape also play a considerable role."

The same goes for the shopping experience. One year ago, Hess Natur opened its hometown flagship: an oval-shaped, 10,000-square-foot eco-friendly building surrounded by nature. Another eco-conscious outpost opened in central Hamburg this October, and a store in Munich is slated for 2008.

"There is a potentially large consumer audience for environmentally and ethically sound fashion, and stores are an important way of presenting and communicating our message," said Lüdge.

Hess Natur foresees opening approximately 10 stores in Germany, Austria and Switzerland within the next three to four years. While he wouldn't be specific, Lüdge said retail could make up a considerable portion of the company's future sales. The company's baby catalogue has recently gone online in Britain — Hess Natur's first foray into a non-German market and a test for further international endeavors.

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