A Breath of Fresh Air in Sailing – Ahoy, Sustainability!
Friends for many years, Holger Ambroselli and Simon Licht share a passion for sailing. That is why they co-founded KHULULA, a platform for sustainability in outdoor sports. The first of their products to see the light of day is the world’s first sustainable sailing boat for children – the Eco_Optimist. What is more, RAMPF Tooling Solutions is also on board.
The story behind the establishment of KHULULA sounds a bit like a plot for a novel. In their youth, Simon and Holger were classmates at high school in Grossburgwedel near Hanover, Germany. After graduating from high school in 1988, they went their separate ways. Simon headed off to study in Vienna, where he became an actor, while Holger built a successful career as a strategy and brand consultant in Hamburg and South Tyrol, Italy.
During their school days, the two had shared a passion for sport. At that time, both were headed for a professional sports career – Holger in handball and Simon in fencing. And now, almost 35 years later, it is sport that has given their friendship a new lease of life.
The two men both independently discovered a passion for sailing, the sport that would ultimately reunite them. They keep track of each other’s sailing adventures on social media and when, in 2020, they were suffering from cabin fever due to the Corona pandemic, Holger and Simon hatched a plan. They wanted to compete in a few regattas together and get back out on the water to enjoy that sense of freedom once more!
However, they attached a condition to their plan. “We were determined that it had to be sustainable!” They cranked up their search engines and started researching. “To cut a long story short, we never did sail in a regatta together,” KHULULA founder and sailor Simon tells us.
In our wonderful sport, which combines wind, water, and nature, there is no sustainability. In fact, sustainability isn’t really found in any sport at the moment – but there’s none at all in water sports.
Sailing enjoys the reputation of being an environmentally friendly sport that gets you close to nature – after all, sailing boats need nothing more than the power of the wind to move through the water, and no fuel, emissions, or engine noise are involved. However, emissions-free and almost silent does not automatically mean sustainable.
Many of the materials used are problematic, for example. These include fiber-reinforced materials such as glass-fiber-reinforced plastic (GFRP) and carbon, synthetic fibers for sails, and various coatings that make everything waterproof and dirt-repellent.
The lack of sustainable products gave Holger and Simon pause for thought. Time and again, when looking for alternatives, they came across small companies with exciting approaches and products, such as sails made from recycled films or rigging made from recycled PET.
“There are lots of clever people out there already working on really cool outdoor sports products made from recycled materials. But many of these people aren’t in a position to scale up their business. They often don’t have the networks they need to promote their business model or raise their profile on the market. So we reckoned that what was needed was a platform where they could meet”, says Simon, as he explains the basic concept behind KHULULA. The impact start-up was finally launched in March 2021.
With KHULULA, our aim is to show that sustainable sports equipment for water sports and other sports is possible!
Like all water sports, sailing has an impact on both the local and global environment. Holger and Simon are in no doubt that the exact nature of this impact is in people’s own hands. In pursuit of their vision, the start-up founders brought together various partners to develop their first in-house product, which embodies the KHULULA spirit perfectly – the Eco_Optimist.
An Optimist is a class of boat that is found in large numbers all across the world. Since “Optis” are relatively easy to sail, unsinkable, and hard to capsize, they are also a popular entry-level class for sailing regattas. The KHULULA founders have now rethought the classic as the Eco_Optimist.
When developing and producing the Eco_Optimist, the focus was on three key factors – materials, energy consumption, and transportation. According to the manufacturer, the CO2 footprint of the Eco_Optimist is 70 percent lower than that of a conventionally manufactured boat. This is made possible thanks to the use of renewable resources and recycled materials, combined with short supply chains and transportation routes. The Eco_Optimist is “Made in Germany” in the shipyard in Wilhelmshaven. What is more, all component parts are sourced exclusively from Germany and other European countries, so overseas transportation is avoided.
The concept is well thought through – and this is also confirmed by winning the German Sustainability Prize Sport in the category sports equipment in November 2023! A great honor for the KHULULA founders:
Winning the German Sustainability Award for Sport was a really great moment, which means a lot of tailwind for our start-up and of course gives our plans for 2024 a real boost. The award means an incredible amount to us and is an enormous additional motivation.
As a company that is focusing on the issue of sustainability, RAMPF is proud to be playing a part in this visionary project. The company’s RAKU® TOOL MB-0600 polyurethane board is used to produce a negative mold for the boat’s deck and central bulkhead. The material boasts a high proportion of recycled polyols, outstanding suitability for milling, excellent edge strength, and the finest surface quality.
On the subject of materials – an impressive 90 percent of those used to build the KHULULA sailing boat for children are renewable and recycled resources. Unlike boats made from GFRP and plastic, the hull of the Eco_Optimist can be recycled, since it is made from natural flax fibers and recycled composites. Biobased resins also provide a non-toxic, waterproof coating.
The KHULULA Opti is completed with accessories that are manufactured in a resource-friendly way – the main sheet and toe straps are both made from rPET, with the latter also containing a high proportion of ocean-bound plastic; buoyancy bags are made from recycled life jackets; and a sail is manufactured from recycled PET fibers. Although the Eco_Optimist is more expensive to manufacture than conventional boats, Simon Licht makes clear:
If we want sustainability, we have to pay for it. We all need to accept that it simply costs more.
KHULULA is also aiming to use its Eco_Optimist to raise young sailors’ awareness of sustainability. “We really wanted our first product to be for children, as part of our intergenerational contract. It’s for them that we’re doing the whole thing.”
That is also why Holger and Simon have initiated Eco_TeamRace Germany – the world’s first sustainable sports events for children – which complements the first series-manufactured sustainable sailing boat for children and young people perfectly. In cooperation with companies and boat sponsors – including RAMPF – KHULULA provides participants with Eco_Optimists, complete with environmentally friendly equipment, for use in the regattas. Transporting the sailing boats and equipment collectively reduces the CO2 emissions that would normally be generated by each family traveling separately by car and towing a boat trailer.
Simon and Holger’s plan to make a positive impact with their start-up and bring various stakeholders together has been launched in fine style. From sailing clubs and sailors of all ages to companies, there has been a huge response to the projects initiated by KHULULA.
At the end of our interview, we also ask Simon what has come of his plan to compete in a regatta with Holger. The founder of KHULULA laughs. “Our plan came to far more than we could ever have envisaged at the outset – but we still haven’t sailed in a regatta together.”
But, who knows, that day may still come!
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