For 40 years, Vestergaard Frandsen made uniforms for hotel workers and retailers. Now the Danish company is "in the business of saving lives," says CEO Mikkel Vestergaard Frandsen. "That's the clearest way I can say it." The common thread between the company founded by his grandfather Kaj and the modern Vestergaard Frandsen, created by Mikkel: textiles.
The company has three signature textile-based life-saving products: PermaNet (above), mosquito netting with long-lasting insecticide; ZeroFly, a durable plastic sheeting for sheltering refugees, which also kills disease-spreading insects; and LifeStraw, a remarkable water-filtration tool, the size of a fat carrot, which produces drinkable water simply by sucking on it. Up for release in 2007: a product that tackles environmental pollution.
The products combine cutting-edge technology (LifeStraw has seven separate filters woven inside it) with utter simplicity of use (PermaNet and ZeroFly are nontoxic to humans but kill insects on contact). PermaNet, endorsed by the WHO, is already in wide use, and each product could ultimately save millions of lives. It's a pitifully large market: Per day, 3,000 children die from malaria, 6,000 people from bad water. "We combine two things that are fantastic and motivating," says Vestergaard Frandsen, who had to be wooed into the family business in 1993. "The ability to do business and the ability to do good."
Good indeed: The life-saving textiles business is now 10 times the size the old uniform business was just a decade ago.