About Steven Parsons

Steven Parsons looks after Market Development and Innovation for Wools of New Zealand. Views are his own and not necessarily those of WNZ.

Working with nature.

Some very famous brands have been talking to us recently about ethics.

Concerns have been raised about the wool fibre grown for their products. Animal activist groups, and lets be fair, who don’t really have a good reputation so far as unbiased and honest report go, claim that humans eat sheep. This is true; their claims are a worry in that they also claim that sheep are treated cruelly during their life on the farm.   At this point please be clear that they are not accusing New Zealand farmers!

 Here is the truth.

Sheep are grown all around the world. Local customs and local environments mean that standards and practices vary.

In New Zealand there are strict laws on animal welfare, good environmental management and social welfare. It’s a modern society with lots of checks in place to ensure that everything is done in a nice way.     The clean and green New Zealand brand is fiercely protected. The last thing Kiwi’s want is to be seen as out of sync with nature.

New Zealand farmers are animal lovers that enjoy working with nature. Sheep are grown for food with wool being a relatively small part of the farmer’s income. The sheep are kept in large free-range properties, are sheltered, well fed and well looked after. A happy healthy sheep is a more productive animal.

The wool is taken from sheep once or twice a year depending on the type of sheep and the type of product the wool is grown for. During the shearing process the sheep are held in pens while they wait for their haircut. The sheep are held by the shearer in a relaxed state, and do not resist this process. They then go back to the paddock.

The farmers look after the land so that it can be passed onto their children and they look after the animals so they will be productive and keep giving us wool.

Not all parts of the world are as plentiful as New Zealand enjoying as much rainfall and sunshine and a moderate climate for wool. These third-world farming communities need our help and support so they too can reach maximum potential.

Rather the calling for a boycott on wool, which hurts the good growers, why not work with these communities and show them how it’s done. Shunning third world farmers out of your own ignorance does not make the world a better place.

Campaigns of anger create tension; destroy livelihoods and ultimately force people to do desperate things to feed their family.   These extremist need to put down their digital placards and become part of the solution.

The video below illustrates the shearing process. Which as well as not causing any discomfort to the sheep, provides a livelihood for many hundreds of thousands of people in the textile industry around the world.

The Perils of Fast Fashion in Interiors

Interior fashion cycles are getting faster with the gap between the catwalk and interiors stores getting shorter all the time.  Associating interiors brands with celebrity and high fashion can be good if this lifts the perceived value of an item, which is then treasured for its aesthetic and its quality.  The manufacture of heirloom pieces is great for building long-term robust and sustainable value chains.  When true craftsmanship is rewarded and quality materials are sought after then the people that grow fibre, sew garments and weave carpets and fabrics all can share the rewards.

It all falls apart however if we follow the fast fashion business model. If textile mills and retail outlets focus on fast turn-around of low quality items from non-sustainable value chains we end up creating waste, using more energy than is required and supporting the throw-away society.

It is better to create beautiful textiles from sustainable materials and to build them well so they last a long time, rather than to manufacture oil based products with the promise to recycle them one day.

The fast fashion culture encourages corners to be cut and lives to be endangered, think Rana Plaza.   This is not just an apparel issue.  There are carpet schemes that guarantee no child labour, but do not take care of the children that are banished from the rug mills.  Those children sometimes move to more dangerous factories.  No we don’t want six year olds making our carpets, we want them in schools paid for by the sale of carpets.

There are rug retailers that push so hard on price that the weavers are forced to use extremely low quality materials and pay very poor wages.  Eliminating unnecessary waste and reproduction is the best thing we can do for the planet and for the people that live here.  Buying something cheap with the aim of throwing it away is the worst legacy we can leave behind.

Children removed from rug factories are often just moved on to other industries.

Children removed from rug factories are often just moved on to other industries.

The Dark Age of Carpet Design

Dark Age of Design

260 Years of Machine Made Carpets

Two hundred and sixty years on from the invention of machine made carpets the carpet industry has largely forgotten how to construct textile floor coverings from renewable materials.

For 192 years machine made carpets were made from wool. These carpets were made to last for decades, and they did.

In the middle of last century nylon was invented which meant that cheaper carpets could be created that used lower quality materials. In the worst examples carpets lost their ability to biodegrade, to absorb moisture and create healthy breathing zones and even became flammable.

Several generations of carpet designers and carpet sellers have been operating under the belief that wool carpets are improved by substituting 20% of the pile content with synthetic fibre. This is not correct, we have entered the Dark Age, and the wisdom of the past has almost been lost.

Nylon is added to wool carpet to meet a price point. The addition of cheap oil-based fibre allows yarn strength to be maintained with lower quality, cheaper fibre.   The nylon adds no benefit to the product, it only increases the visual appearance of wear as nylon is shiny and wool is dull.

A carpet correctly made from 100% good quality wool is going to keep looking good for years and years.  A carpet that is a blend of materials is not a smart or responsible thing to design, sell or buy.

The challenge for carpet designers is to think about the user experience, and the full life cycle of the products they bring to life. Carrying on with poor information is lazy design.

Good design considers form and function. The experience of a product should not just be about price point and a quick sale but it should consider the total experience a consumer will have.

 The ultimate carpet would be:

Visually attractive.

Constructed from rapidly renewable resources.

Be either fully biological or fully mechanical (either 100% natural or 100% synthetic)

Enhance the habitat of people in the home and office by filtering noise and pollution, insulating against heat, absorbing volatile chemicals, trapping dust from the breathing zone and reducing the rick of fire.

Long lasting in looks and performance.

Have a pre-determined plan for the end of its life as a carpet.

Consider both the environmental and social benefits of its supply chain

The world keeps pumping out 80/20 carpets under the impression that this is the best way to make a carpet and that is simply not true. 80/20 is better than plastic carpet and it still going to perform well and look good. But it is not as good as a 100% wool carpet and it is certainly ignoring the fact that nylon requires oil to manufacture and it takes 40 times longer to biodegrade than wool.

We should not keep making lazy design choices based on the fact that its always been done that way, especially as for more almost 200 years of the 260 years of machine made carpets it wasn’t done that way.

Below is a 100% natural carpet the way it is supposed to be done.

100% Natural Carpet

A 100% Natural Carpet in Buckingham Palace.

A Brief History of Sheep

A Brief History of Sheep (in New Zealand).

Sheep still out number people in New Zealand, but not quite so dramatically as they once did. The total sheep population is now estimated at 29 million, with the human population at roughly 4.5 million. In 1982, at the height of the sheep boom, there were 70.3 million sheep in New Zealand to only 3.18 million people. Since the 1980’s Sheep numbers have steadily reduced, mainly as there has been an increase in non-sheep related land use.   Cows, grapes and trees now use a lot of the land that was once the domain of sheep. Farmers are essentially businesses people, so with low wool prices on offer many farmers have looked for alternative and more profitable land uses.

scared of Moari

Dutch Explorer Abel Tasman

As far as Europeans are concerned it all started back on the 13th of December 1642 when Dutch explorer Abel Tasman sailed into Golden Bay, but was frightened off by the Maori and never went ashore. Apparently there was a bit of a fracas and Tasman decided not to become a casserole.

James Cook

English Map Maker that did not discover New Zealand (James Cook)

127 years later in October 1769 the English Navigator, Captain James Cook landed at Poverty Bay and set about mapping the islands. On a later Voyage to New Zealand Cook took along a few sheep, however these did not last long.   It wasn’t until the 1840’s that sheep were imported to New Zealand in significant numbers. It started with Merino’s from Australia, which were then crossbred with British breeds to create longer fibre suitable for worsted cloth. Roll on to today and New Zealand still has lots of white fluffy sheep, The main breed being Romney (almost half) with Perendales, Coopworth and Corriedale making up much of the remainder. The vast majority of New Zealand sheep have a white fleece, which has been purposely bred for interior textiles.   Merino sheep make up about 5% of the population. These are perfect for producing fine wool for apparel and tend to thrive in the South Island’s high country. New Zealand wool is of course, awesome. Each sheep produces about 5.4kg each of fluffy wool. There is still well over 100 million kilograms of wool available. Wool is however a tiny fraction of Earth’s textile fibre produced each year which is estimated at 85.5 million tons. New Zealand wool although approximately 11% of global wool production is less than 0.2% of global fibre production. We have a very niche fibre, which is reserved for very special products.

sheep

One of New Zealand’s many sheep.

Resilient Wool

One of the key principles of the Circular Economy is to build resilience.

If we build things that last longer then we delay chucking things away, and use less precious energy making and distributing new stuff.

The fact that 100% wool carpets keep their good looks longer than synthetics or blends of fibres is good news.   Also of course the fibre is rapidly renewable and so long is it is not cheapened with synthetic fibre it remains biodegradable.

Wool is off to a good start in providing manufacturers a sustainable and resilient ingredient.

Another important step is maintenance. Looking after carpets so that they last longer. The best thing to do is to vacuum regularly.

If you spill something then most stains can be removed with water, dilute the stain and mop up the liquid with a clean white cloth. Dab don’t rub!!

Some stains are more determined and for those you need chemicals. Not just any chemicals.   Eco-friendly products, non-toxic and not tested on animals, all in recyclable packaging.

We have built woolclean to help people who own carpets make them stay looking lovely. It’s coming soon to UK carpet retailers that care about their customers and their customer’s habitat.

WoolSafe approved,  Woolclean is recommended for use with our Laneve branded carpets.

www.woolclean.co.uk

woolclean carpet are kit

Woolclean – The Wools of New Zealand Carpet Care Kit.

The Renewable Colour Challenge for 7 Billion People.

7 Billion Cups of Coffee and no Sheep but its OK we can recycle the fishing nets…

Perhaps its time to step back and look at what we are doing?

Before man stared making synthetic fibre and dyes from oil there were far fewer people on the planet.  With only 1 billion people and very few of them in developed economies the world could easily produce enough natural fibre and pigment to satisfy demand.

Well not quite; Rich people had colour and poor people wore beige. The invention of synthetics dyes in 1856 by Perkins and then fibre almost 100 years later meant everyone could afford mass produced textiles. Luxury was affordable and become the norm.

perkins mauve

Perkins Mauve Oil Based Dye.

That was then, in the late 1800’s we though oil was going to last forever. It turns out that mass-producing synthetics was cheaper, but not sustainable.

It has been argued that we cannot go back to natural products, as there are now 7 billion people all wanting modern western lifestyles.

There is simply not enough planet earth to provide natural fibre and colour for 7 billion worthy citizens.

Apparently It is OK to use vast areas of countryside and cheap labour to grow luxury drinks like coffee, but it is not OK to use vast land areas to grow pigments or cotton from plants.   Food takes priority, even if its coffee, tea and cocoa.

This to me sounds like an argument to prolong our addiction to man-made fibre.

Oil based industries need to drive demand so they tell us they are saving the world, giving us a lifestyle that we otherwise could not afford. Unfortunately they have a point.

The challenge in 1856 was to create colour for the masses, which Perkins accidentally solved while trying to make a vaccine.   The challenge now is to create a circular economy and create textiles and colour from rapidly renewable materials.

 The challenge is 7 times greater and 7 times more urgent than it was in 1857.

Where do we begin?   We begin small, niche and high-end.  Perhaps natural fibre and natural colour can only be produced in small quantities, for wealthy people who want something real.   Coffee and chocolate started niche too, but now millions of people around the world earn their livelihood by producing a luxury product that nobody actually needs.

We don’t save the world by using a recycled cup.  We save the world by not using the cup in the 1st place.  Use a ceramic cup and use it 1000 times,  not an oil based cup that’s used once and might be recycled.   Same goes for textiles and carpets,  Wool carpets last longer and are 100% renewable.  Where did your plastic carpet come from?  Is the synthetic fibre company going to plant a new dinosaur for every litre of oil they use?  Maybe they will make it from a plastic fishing net which also never should have existed in the 1st place.   Make those nets from renewable fibres that break down in water and there is no problem to solve.

Lets take a step back and stop creating problems to solve so we look less bad in our marketing propaganda.  Lets just plan to be naturally good.

Coffee Production.

Coffee Production.

All That is Gold Does Not Glitter

The Midas Rug has been a long time coming, but its finally here. The world’s 1st hand knotted rug coloured with particles of pure gold. Aulana uses pure wool and pure gold – no dyes at all, to create a range of Purples, Pinks and Greys.

The Aulana Midas Rug

The Midas Rug – Photograph by Marek Sikora

Wools of New Zealand, have introduced Aulana, a new luxury brand in which cutting edge science, wool and pure gold, combine to produce the ultimate exclusive textiles. The first Aulana product is the Midas Rug, a unique hand knotted rug. Ancient chemistry combines with modern science to create colours without the use of dyes. Fine particles of pure gold shift light into delicate shades of grey, pink and purple. The scientific process is called ‘localised surface plasman resonance’ . To understand this, think gothic cathedrals and their stained glass windows, which are often red in apparent colour – when, in reality, they are gold dissolved in the glass.

Mias Rug

Designed by SoFarSoNear and woven by Obeetee.

The Midas Rug, designed by SoFarSoNear of Milan and on display in their London showroom, is created to illustrate luxury and opulence, the rug does not glitter with gold, but rather uses gold to interrupt light and create elegant soft hues. Aulana is about creating an heirloom. Its products won’t be gold in colour, but gold is in there creating the hues that are visible. And because it is gold particles it is permanent, so, like cathedral windows, Aulana colours will never fade, and our ancestors can inherit an Aulana rug centuries from now and the colour will be just as rich.

Aulana Midas Rug

The Midas Rug from above.

Prof. Jom Johnston

Professor Jim Johnston – co inventor of Aulana. Photograph by Marek Sikora, tweaks by me.