Discover Germany | Issue 17 | August 2014

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Discover Germany | Special Theme | For a Better Future

Sustainable souvenirs from the Swiss Alps Looking for a Swiss souvenir that makes you smile and helps to protect the environment? Hans-Jörg and Yvonne Karlen might have the perfect solution. Their company, Karlen Swiss, transforms old military blankets and seat covers into shiny, new accessories. TEXT: SONJA IRANI | PHOTOS: KARLEN SWISS

With headquarters in the idyllic village of Törbel in the Swiss mountain region of Wallis, Karlen Swiss is powered by local women and their slogan Recycling, Handcrafted, Mountain Region.Ten well-experienced female employees create stylish accessories and novel gift ideas using traditional handicraft techniques. The idea to recycle old but high-quality materials into something new was born in 1951, when Hans-Jörg’s father Titus Karlen founded a shoemakers and saddlery workshop.“At that time, leather was a raw and expensive material,” explains Hans-Jörg Karlen about the business he and wife Yvonne took over from his father in 2000. “We’ve always tried to distance ourselves from today’s throwaway society as much as possible. The materials that we use are

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made of 80 per cent recycled goods. And all non-recycled materials such as leather and closures are bought in Switzerland and Germany, from tanneries that respect the environment and their employees.”

Recycling former Swiss Army issue woollen blankets is an example of their pioneering reinventions. Disused since 1995, the Karlen entrepreneurs have created a range of truly unique bags from these blankets, which all feature the Swiss Cross in red and white, carefully embroidered by hand. Giving old materials a chic makeover, the creative couple have also turned their attention to old post-bags, the former Swiss post delivery uniforms and the red and green seat cushion covers of now defunct Swiss trains. From a pretty iPhone case to a handy shoulder bag, a professional briefcase to a trendy belt, a decorative fruit bowl and even a quirky condom case – you can be sure to find something for every taste among the Karlen Swiss range of products. As of January 2015, some of these products will be available to order from the Karlen Swiss website, which will also be launched in English shortly.