Start-up Khulula develops Eco-Optis

It is possible to significantly reduce the CO2 footprint in sailing. Actor and passionate sailor Simon Licht is sure of that. Together with his sailing friend Holger Ambroselli, he founded the start-up Khulula and developed the world’s first recyclable serial boat – the Eco Optimist made of flax fibres. At the Travemünde Week, of which Khulula is the official sustainability partner, visitors can see the “green” Optis in action at the Trave Races. 

The idea for the Eco-Opti was born out of water sports. “My friend and business partner Holger Ambroselli and I are enthusiastic sailors. It has always bothered us that sustainability plays such a minor role in our favourite sport,” explains Licht. The Baltic Sea is currently the most polluted sea, and everyone on the water and ashore is part of the problem, Licht says. Ambroselli and he therefore asked themselves what the situation was regarding sustainability and recyclability of boats and boards. “We realised that this didn’t exist yet and we wanted to change it,” he says.

“In the first step, we asked ourselves: what would be our favourite product if we were allowed to develop one for water sports,” the start-up founder reports about the beginnings of the sustainability project. The answer was found quickly. “It should definitely be something for children, because we have a great responsibility towards them to leave them a planet worth living on,” explains the father of a seven-year-old daughter. It also had to be a product made from renewable raw materials, recyclable and, above all, produced in Germany. In the end, the choice fell on a boat, something the start-up founder knows a lot about.

Brainstorming was followed by action. The result is the sustainable Eco Optimist made of flax fibres and 90 percent renewable raw materials and recycled materials. “Our Eco Optimist has a 70 percent lower carbon footprint and is 90 percent recyclable without gelcoat,” Simon Licht tells us.

In the Eco-Opti, it is not only the hull that is sustainable, but the entire set-up. The shell is made of flax fibres, bio-resins and recycled materials. The sails are made from recycled foils and the sheets and halyards from recycled product waste. “Nobody can do a sustainability project like this alone. You need partners, like we did with the sails from Elvstroem and the ropes from Robline,” Licht says. Khulula, which means “freedom of the spirit” and comes from the Zulu language, sees itself as a platform for sustainability – in water sports, boat building, but also in outdoor sports articles in general.

At Khulula, sustainability begins with the shape in which the Opti is made. This consists of a recycled content of 30 per cent. “We have tried to make the entire process as sustainable as possible. This applies to the entire material, right up to our latest product, a rudder blade for the Optimist made of hard cork and biological resin,” explains Holger Ambroselli.

Could he imagine building boats entirely with recycled materials? “Yes, that is possible. Above 30 feet it becomes difficult to work with pure flax. There you still need mixed materials. But we are in contact with boat builders to produce a prototype and to push the flax issue further. Where it would definitely work is in boat interiors,” says Ambroselli.

The idea of sustainability stands also behind the “Eco Team Race Germany” racing series, whereby Khulula provides the boats for the participating children. “This way, no additional boats need to be transported and the children can travel to the event by train in an environmentally friendly way,” Licht is pleased to say. The first Eco Team Race took place as part of the Hamburg Harbour Birthday, with eight more races to follow across Germany. After the Travemünde Week, the next stops are in Rostock, Essen and Bavaria.

Those who want to get an idea of the sustainable boats and materials at the Travemünder Woche will have the opportunity to do so at the Khulula stand on the Travepromenade. Next weekend, the Optis will be used once again in show races on the Trave.