A natural choice for outdoors
Simon Williamson’s passion for wool is infectious. He is on a mission to tap into the growing consumer preference for natural, sustainable, wool clothing.
The upper Waitaki Valley farmer owns the 3700ha Glenbrook Station north of Omarama, with wife Kirsty and three sons, George, Ben and Ted.
He was approached several years ago by Peter and Patty Duke, former ski instructors who wanted to source Merino wool to make into socks for skiers and outdoor enthusiasts. Their experiences with synthetic socks led them to Merino wool as an alternative, and eventually to Williamson as a possible source.
“Peter and Patty invited Kirsty and I to the United States to meet with them. While we were there, we met a lot of other people in similar businesses who were just so passionate about Merino wool.
“They were all saying they wanted Merino wool but they couldn’t get a reliable supplier that could deliver exceptional wool with a great story behind it. Of course, we said we can supply it ourselves or find it for them from other growers down in NZ,” Simon says.
Their relationship with the Dukes has developed well over the past few years, and they are now the Australasian agents for Point6 Socks, a business they run from the farm, delivering online orders and stocking 50 shops in both countries.
On another trip to the US, he also met textile guru Jose Fernandez, the founder of Global Merino, a world leader in the development of Merino wool fabrics for a wide range of uses. Fernandez has been to NZ several times since and sources most of the fine wool he uses in his company from NZ suppliers, including Glenbrook Station.
On the same trip, Simon also met with the two founders of First Lite, a high-end hunting apparel company based at Ketchum, Idaho, who were also looking for a supply of Merino wool to create a range of base-layer and mid-layer garments.
The pair, Scott Robinson and Kenton Carruth, have been to Glenbrook Station several times since and hunted at many locations in the South Island high country, trialing their wool garment range and developing the relationship with Simon and four other growers who now supply a total of 50 tonnes of their wool each year to First Lite on a three-year supply contract. There are two segments to the contract – 17.5-micron wool for base layer clothing, and 18.5-micron wool for the mid-layer range.
Logistics for the supply of the wool arAQe handled by CP Wool. Once the wool is tested in store, it is shipped to China through exporter John Marshall and Co, for scouring, top-making and spinning into yarn, then on to the garment making stage before being shipped to First Lite’s warehousing facility in Salt Lake City, and sold online to hunters around the US and beyond.
CP Wool Group chief executive Colin McKenzie says First Lite’s founders had previously been wearing Merino wool clothing but it was brightly coloured and not ideal for hunters who usually prefer camouflage gear.
“The wool from our New Zealand growers is engineered with a proprietary yarn system to enhance its performance for hunters and printed in camouflage colours,” he says.
“First Lite operates an online retail model, so it’s great to see wool from a small group of growers in the Waitaki Valley being made into garments that are sold directly to hunters in the United States and many other places too,” McKenzie says.
He says the direct to end-user contracts offer the chance to compress and disrupt the traditional supply chain for Merino wool growers. Their supply contract was introduced last year and this year offers the growers certainty of price and volume for the three-year period.
“It’s commercially sensitive information but it’s definitely a premium price for those growers to supply First Lite,” McKenzie says.
He’s visited the First Lite head office in Ketchum and met with the owners to lock down the supply chain and build value into the tight partnership, with a small group of NZ wool growers.
“They love New Zealand, they’ve been here hunting thar and deer, and they love the fact that they can source top-quality Merino wool in a tight specification direct from a dedicated small group of loyal and passionate merino wool growers for their high-end hunting apparel”.
McKenzie says CP Wool is building a suite of options for wool growers, from traditional auction selling to supply agreements and contracts which link them directly to end-users.
“The beauty of these longer-term contracts is that it removes some of the risk from being exposed to the vagaries of the global commodity market for wool and leapfrogs conventional channels to market; we want wool growers to have a choice with a portfolio approach to sales channels”.