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.

Brick in The Wall

Not just another brick in the wall…


Not just another sheep near the wall.

Wools of New Zealand has been working feverishly hard to connect growers with consumers and its paying off.

We have a bunch of Kiwi wool growers motivated enough to commit their wool into our programme to add value to their wool and present it to consumers around the world who are after products with real integrity.

We have such an amazing story to tell and the timing is absolutely perfect. Right when UK consumers are wondering if their beef burger is actually more related to Mr. Ed we have another major UK lifestyle brand “Crucial Trading” launching 100% New Zealand wool products all traceable back to our growers.

Two Laneve products have been selected for use in the Campaign for Wool’s Somerset house exhibition in London next month!
We just launched Crumbwool, a new underlay made from 100% recycled textile fibre and giving proceeds to the Woodland Trust.
In America we are preparing for our Spring Sale event where we will connect Americans with Authentic New Zealand wool carpets.

The reason to brag is that, well, we are in a position to, feeling positive about the future and excited about all the hard but fun work ahead.
There are always those that will decide not to come on our journey, those who do not share our vision and believe that marketing is wasted effort.  My message to those guys is “watch this space” but I’m not going to dedicate a blog post into explaining why they should join.  I am going to get on with promoting the vast amount of wool that the growers who want to make a difference have already committed.
While the blokes who just don’t get it sit and complain about the state of the industry, I have the privilege of meeting with the heads of the UK’s most important carpet buying groups who all want to work with our growers to promote beautiful carpets.

As for the stalwarts who actually put effort in trying to stop our good work and tell lies. Yes unfortunately even the wool industry has a few people who still think the way to get ahead is by knocking the opposition.  We just ignore them.  If you want to compete try and out-perform us, try and see if you can be as good at us at what we do..  Lets lift the game not focus on politics..  Silly people.. never mind… I digress…

If you are wondering why I called this post “Brick in the wall” partly I just wanted to use the picture, but also Wool can’t be sold as a commodity, another brick in the wall, it has to be marketed professionally as something special.

Lets get on with it!

Lovely Ethical Woolly Things

How do we know wool is ethical?

This week I have been asked that question by New York Knitwear Designer, Jennifer Raish.

Jennifer is a pioneer in the new industrial revolution which is about niche produced quality items distributed internationally and sold digitally.  Jennifer wants to know that she is providing her customers with ethically produced goods and her customers want to trust her.   As the world moves rapidly towards digitally shared information and niche markets customers want to know more about who made their thing.  These customers want to feel special about their purchase.

Jennifer’s fantastic things are on Etsy..  you should take a look…

Lovely wool by Jennifer Raish - click to see at Etsy

Lovely wool by Jennifer Raish – click to see at Etsy

Quality, Niche, Personalised & Exclusive have replaced Average, Mass, Standard and Boring.

This is how things are from now on, if you own a large factory you need to think long and hard about this and who will be your customers in 5 years from now.

Jennifer is not alone in her quest to create a wonderful special and woolly experience for her customers.  I have also been discussing all things wool and ethical with Katrin who runs another on-line experience  As the name suggests Katrin sells 100% natural wool and felt.

This is something I had been searching for a while as craft shops often only sell sheets of  polyester pretending to be felt (Felt must be made of wool but often other products are marketed as felt)  So I was delighted when Katrin made contact.

I asked Katrin to comment on why its important that her wool is ethically produced.

“My customers ask where the wool fibre we sell comes from, I ask the suppliers where the wool fibre they sell to us comes from… this is important because it makes us all more aware that it really matters in today’s world, we want to know and want to make informed choices.”

“One of the suppliers makes it easy, they sell only certified organic felt, guaranteed free from harmful substances and from organically kept sheep. She and her husband also dye the felt with natural dyes and create 15 different shades of colours. What never ceases to amaze me, is, that you can combine any of these colours you like and they never clash, they always harmonise…”

“Making your own felt is extremely satisfying. You can play about with the texture of wool and the colours and you get your hands really soapy and everything is a bit messy, just like being a child again but nobody can really tell you off when you are an adult in your own home.The results are often a surprise, the product evolves as you go along and you go along with it. I would call the process therapeutic.”

So why did Katrin decide to start an online shop ( selling pure wool felt?

“Because I believe in the product wool, the sustainability of it, it’s wonderful properties which you will not find in fibre created from petrol-chemicals, it’s ability to self cleanse ( woollen sweaters after a heavy days work indeed just need to be aired for some time and any smells that might have clung to them will evaporate). These days it is ever harder to find pure wool products because people are after easy to care for items. But in many ways woollen products are just that, they are water repellent, dirt resistant, fire resistant and harmonising when it comes to temperature. I for one do hope that wool will celebrate a huge come back, and I am not just saying that as a store owner. It will help the UK farmers as well, who until recently could not even pay the sheep shearer with the money they received for the fleeces that came off their sheep’s backs!”

Wool and felt from Wool and Felt

Wool and felt from Wool and Felt

Back to ethics

 Both Jennifer and Katrin are on a mission to provide an authentic experience with wool.  And both have concerns about where the wool comes from, is it truly ethical?  Do the sheep suffer?

If it is New Zealand wool then readers of this blog will know that the Kiwi farmers really care for and nurture their sheep.  Organisations like PETA have highlighted the practice of mulesing as cruelty to animals.  PETA are a little bit naughty with their tactics,  and like any extremist organisation they tend to only show the facts that work in their favour.  The truth is often inconvenient.  In saying that we need pressure groups to do exactly that, create pressure so that things do always improve.

The new pressure group is the customer,  if they don’t trust the product they simply won’t buy it.

Mulesing is illegal in New Zealand unless it is done to help an animal that is deformed in some way.  Even then it must be carried out by a vet and using anesthetic   It is extremely uncommon for a sheep in New Zealand to be mulesed,  it probably does not happen at all but it is technically legal under extreme circumstances for the good of the animal.

The practice is common in Australia as the climate is much hotter and the risk of fly strike much higher.   Australian sheep are mainly Merinos which have been bred to have folds in their skin,  This increases the surface area for growing wool, and is a real problem if you are a sheep.   But NZ sheep do not have this issue.   It is considered by Australian farmers to be kinder to mules a sheep than to let it have a painful slow death via fly strike.  Also the Aussie growers are spending millions on research and development to find alternative methods of protecting sheep from fly strike.

New Zealand farmers do not mules sheep as it not required due to the cooler climate and different sheep breeds.

In the marketing of lovely ethical woolly things we tend not to talk about negative stuff, but we also must be completely transparent and open if our customers are to trust what we make for them.

Go and take a peek at Jennifer and Katrins wonderful stuff,  Click the pretty pictures above to see their on-line stores.

Oh and one last thing.  MERRY CHRISTMAS!   Go an buy an ethical  present for someone you love.