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Regular workwear - 4 min read - 25 June 2019

Healthcare meets sustainable fibers: Nij Smellinghe

Dutch hospital Nij Smellinghe wanted to switch from workwear made with high-waste cotton to a sustainable alternative that offered more benefits to wearers. They found the solution in one of TenCate Protective Fabrics’ latest innovations, Tecawork® Ecogreen. Jelle de Jonge, Head of Logistics and Procurement at Nij Smellinghe: “We are convinced that caring for the environment is just as important as caring for our patients. Sometimes, that means building your own business case”.

Nij Smellinghe in the city of Drachten, is proud to be one of the leading hospitals in the Netherlands delivering more sustainable healthcare. They were already turning kitchen waste into fertilizer for the hospital gardens and they have placed 9000 solar panels on their parking roofs. And now, they’ve become one of the first hospitals in the Netherlands to choose uniforms made from 100% sustainable Tecawork® Ecogreen fabric. Jelle de Jonge, Head of Logistics and Procurement at Nij Smellinghe explains: “As sustainability is one of our core objectives, changing to Tecawork® Ecogreen is an important step towards reaching our overall goals”.

100% Green fibers

Developed by TenCate Protective Fabrics, Tecawork® Ecogreen replaces cotton with TENCEL™ Lyocell, a fiber made from 100% sustainable sourced wood. The polyester comes from recycled PET bottles and is also 100% certified. To illustrate, 27 PET bottles are recycled to create the fabric for one Nij Smellinghe uniform. This radically reduces the need for non-renewable materials and the production process requires much less energy. Martine Kok, Product Manager Workwear at TenCate Protective Fabrics, explains: “We were seeing slightly more sustainable blends being developed, but none of them was 100% green. That was what we wanted to change. We also wanted our blend to be even more comfortable and able to resist repeated industrial laundering. With Tecawork® Ecogreen we’ve succeeded in that ambition”.

From the outside, the new uniforms look no different than the previous design Nij Smellinghe adopted a few years ago. Designed and produced by Belgian workwear specialist Alsico they are white with blue accents and lots of pockets for pens and medical utensils. The biggest difference lies within the fabric. Instead of virgin polyester and highly polluting cotton, the fabric used for the new uniforms is made out recycled polyester and low-impact natural fiber TENCEL™ Lyocell. “We opted for Tecawork® Ecogreen because of its smooth touch thanks to TENCEL™ Lyocell. As a supplier of carbon neutral workwear, the fabric – which has a lower CO2- footprint – also fits perfectly in our strategy of consistent social and environmental impact management”, says Wouter De Broeck, sustainability manager at Alsico. 

Even more comfortable

Besides being an upgrade in the ‘green’ sense, the new fabric also makes the uniforms more comfortable. Both sustainability and comfort are clear trends in the workwear market. Tecawork® Ecogreen has already been tested at several healthcare locations with very positive results. Staff trying on the new clothing immediately experienced more comfort, suppleness and breathability from their uniforms. Martine Kok explains the reasons for this: “By adding TENCEL™ Lyocell instead of cotton we’ve actually increased the breathability. The fabric also absorbs more moisture (sweat) and feels much softer to the skin, which in relatively warm hospitals are great improvements to traditional cotton”.

“When it comes to sustainability, we see ourselves as a pilot hospital. We are part of a strong regional network of hospitals in Friesland and once we have a strong business case, others will follow”. - Jelle de Jonge, Head of Logistics and Procurement

Logo Nij Smellinghe header

Wishes and specifications

Jelle de Jonge explains there were no absolute demands for the new fabric, other than it had to be at least as comfortable and durable to wash as the older poly-cotton solution. “The most important decision we made was that it had to be a sustainable fabric. Even though there wasn’t yet a 100% completed business case for Tecawork® Ecogreen, we could make an educated guess on the uniform’s life span. Considering early wash and wear test results and the good pricing we just decided to go for it. We skipped wearer trials and trusted our partners Rentex Floron, TenCate Protective Fabrics and Alsico, and immediately placed an order for 700 garments. Sometimes, if you want a strong business case, you just have to build it yourself”.

Well received

After launching the new workwear range in 2018, the reactions from Nij Smellinghe staff have been very positive. Jelle de Jonge: “The day after we launched one of the nurses posted a public message on intranet saying ‘Amazing that Nij Smellinghe is taking the lead in sustainability! So proud of our new uniforms’. That was very telling of the overall reaction. From one day to the next, our people didn’t want to wear the older uniforms anymore, which was difficult since we didn’t have new uniforms yet to go around! We hope that with this business case other hospitals in the region and elsewhere will follow our example. If you are convinced that caring for the environment is important, then switching to a fabric like Tecawork® Ecogreen is not just the right choice but also a smart business decision”.

Facts and figures about this case


  • Nij Smellinghe: is a general hospital in Drachten, maintaining a staff of around 1.500. Specialized departments include abdominal healthcare and lymphology.
  • Number of garments in use to date: to date Nij Smellinghe have taken into use over 2300 garments.
  • Length meters Tecawork® Ecogreen produced: to create the Nij Smellinghe uniforms, TenCate Protective Fabrics have already produced 4.800 length meters of Tecawork® Ecogreen
  • Numbers of PET bottles recycled (0,5 liter) into Nij Smellinghe uniforms so far: 46.560

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TOPICS: Regular workwear , Sustainability