handmade in scotland

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by Alec Farmer

Our design style has always been inspired by classic outdoor and mountaineering equipment. It’s simple, functional and durable – all qualities that we champion – and we’re always on the hunt for those little details, those unique features that have been gathering dust in the archives and deserve a second chance.

So when we stumbled across a roll of ‘Salt and Pepper’ fabric, famously used on the Swiss Army backpack in ww2, we did a double take and promptly used it to produce our Bannoch backpack & messenger.

You might recognise the distinct pattern. It was made famous by the Swiss Army, who used it to furnish their backpacks & outerwear. But this roll wasn’t unearthed in an old warehouse. Although it’s crafted in exactly the same way as the original cloth, this is brand new.

And here’s the clincher.

It’s made with stinging nettles.

stinging nettles

While nettles have been used in fabric since the Napoleonic wars, it wasn’t until WW2 that it became popular. To understand why, we need to delve into the history of Switzerland during that turbulent time.

You see, Switzerland has been a neutral country for a long, long time. During WW2, surrounded on all sides by fighting, it became a refuge for civilians and soldiers fleeing occupied Europe. In response, the German forces tightened their border controls and effectively, Switzerland was blockaded. The movement of people and goods was restricted and raw materials, like cotton, became scarce.

There were no synthetic fabric during this era. Nylon and Polyester wouldn’t be invented for another 20 years and the inventor of Gore-Tex was still a baby. The lack of cotton was a big problem.

To extend the use of this limited resource, it was decided that Cotton fibres would only be used for apparel like vests and shirts. For more heavy-duty, industrial applications like weaving canvas, other fibres were sought. Ultimately, the Swiss settled on the stinging nettle – a common and easily cultivated plant – and developed a method of taking nettle fibres and blending it with cotton to produce a yarn that was suitable for heavier fabrics. Even the weave itself had a purpose – the twisted yarn creating a mottled, almost camouflaged effect – and it became an integral part of the look of the Swiss Army.

swiss army backpack made with salt and pepper fabric

After the war, it’s popularity waned, and this fabric was largely forgotten – until our supplier realised it’s potential in the modern world. After extensive research examining original fabric samples, they were able to reverse-engineer the production process. Now, using the original construction method paired with modern machinery, they have captured it’s heritage and made it available once again. What’s more, they have found a way to do the whole process right here in the UK. Needless to say, we couldn’t resist.

So yes, it’s a beautiful fabric but it represents something more. It’s iconic; a feat of wartime innovation and a design classic which blends function, style and weather-resistance and because it’s entirely British Made, it’s a whole lot more sustainable.

* * *

Thanks to Jojo’s General Store and Department Two for the photos of that classic 1942 Swiss Military Backpack!

Alec Farmer
Alec Farmer



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