Imagine a high-performance fabric with technical properties built into every fibre. It reacts automatically to changes in body temperature, keeping you cool in the heat and warm as temperatures dip. Meanwhile, the material’s soft texture belies its resilience. It’s flame-retardent, odour-resistant, offers UV protection and repels static electricity.
It sounds impressively cutting-edge, like some prototype Bruce Wayne would cook up in the subterranean depths of his Bat Cave. But the creator of this whiz-bang textile is, in fact, a sheep on a New Zealand mountain-side absent-mindedly chewing a clump of grass. That’s because the fabric in question is Merino wool.
I’m at the Mt Nicholas wool station, an indecently scenic spot on Lake Wakatipu, a half-hour boat ride from Queenstown. Sprawling up and over the mountain range, the station is home to 27,000 merino sheep that supply bales of fluffy wool to brands from all over the world.
The sheep themselves look an unremarkable bunch. But discovering their wool proved to be a life-changing experience for Jeremy Moon, the founder of New Zealand outdoor and sports brand, Icebreaker. In 1994, Moon fell for an American backpacker who’d stayed at a Merino farm while hitchhiking around NZ. When given a couple of Merino wool base-layers, Moon was nonplussed by the T-shirts’ basic appearance, but surprised by its sensual feel. “Unlike wool, which was prickly and itchy and heavy, this was lightweight and silky soft,” he says.
Photo by Shutterstock Aug 8, 2012