‘It wasn’t just their innovative strength that made the difference, but also Van Riel’s contribution to our sustainability. For example, by making wool washable without the use of chlorine.’
Van Riel is a family business with a long history. The firm has existed for nearly a century and a half. Recycling has always been a focal point. The credo has also remained the same throughout the years: production is done with respect for people, animals and the planet.
Old Clothing and Rags
In 1875 the Van Riel family starts a company in the town of Geel in the Antwerp province. The main activities of Van Riel NV are: colleting, sorting by colour and quality, opening and tearing of old clothes and rags. So for nearly a century and a half recycling has been part of Van Riel’s core business.
After the War
Later Van Riel moves to Borgerhout, just outside Antwerp. The firm continues its activities here until after the Second World War. Just as many other companies Van Riel suffers in the barren economic circumstances of the post-war period. In part for that reason, Louis Van Riel, already Van Riel’s third generation, moves the whole firm to Lokeren in the province of East Flanders. Together with his sons André and Jean he continues recycling old clothing and rags from this location. In addition, father and sons are also looking for new activities that can contribute to the growth and success of the organisation.
Waste from Wool
André and Jean continue the business in the early 60s. Soon a new branch comes to fruition, in which Van Riel discolours waste from the wool industry and transforms it to a clear and completely white product. This forms the basis for many end products, for example by spinning it into carpet yarns.
The mixing of recycled wool with new yarns considerably lowers the price. Yarns are brought to market with very competitive pricing. This way Van Riel shows that re-use and profit go hand-in-hand. The concept is very successful for Van Riel. Not until the early 90s does this production slowly disappear through a pressing shortage of raw materials.
White Rabbit Hair
In the early 70s a request is received from the local industry in Lokeren, where a lot of hair is processed for hats. Is it possible to discolour grey rabbit hair to a pure white? That question is less odd than it may initially seem to be. That is because back then only ten percent of all rabbits were white. The rest of them are grey. Add to that the fact that white rabbit hair is twice as valuable as grey hair, and Van Riel soon sees a business model.
The new product of discolouration, or ‘depigmenting’, is the start of a very successful and profitable activity for Van Riel. The depigmentation expands to various types of animal fibres, such as wool, cashmere, alpaca, yak, camel, llama and angora.
Industrial Area of Temse
It is time to look for a new location. There is no room to expand in Lokeren. Furthermore, the central location in the city causes ecological problems. In 1982 the Van Riel brothers buy an existing factory in the industrial area of Temse. It offers good opportunities for sustainable production. There is also enough space for compliance with environmental legislation that becomes ever stricter. One by one the various production lines move from Lokeren to Temse. In 1989 the administrative and accounting departments are the last ones to follow.
In the early 90s, André’s sons Alain and Didier het take over the managerial duties. They are the fifth generation at the helm of the Van Riel firm. Until the present day, the choice for Temse has proven to be a very successful one. Van Riel has more than 15,000 square meter of production and warehouse space at its disposal. In addition to that, Belgian and Dutch industry are located at a stone’s throw. This is also the case for two large, international harbours and airports.
From Temse, Van Riel achieves an important position in the international textile industry. From the original activities, only the depigmentation remains. But new activities have been added. At present, Van Riel offers a wide range of production processes for the textile processing industry. These range from Riel-Feltstop (making wool washable) to Riel-Dyeing.
Production with Respect
Over all these years Van Riel has gone through a considerable development: from working with old clothing and rags to recycling and dyeing with natural dyes. Through all this the credo from 1875 was never forgotten: production is done with respect for people, animals and the planet. There is no such thing as waste!