words hannah cole photography PH5
We are deep in the midst of a fabric revolution: materials are made from plastics, oranges, mushrooms, and even kombucha (!). One slightly more obvious — but no less important — realisation is the versatility and sustainability of Merino wool. It has always slotted nicely into my wardrobe somewhere between trench coats and jeans; the requirement of a winters’ day. The word ‘wool’ implied ‘warmth’, ‘snuggles’ and ‘comfort’; they were synonymous. Purveyors of the modern wardrobe have another idea though. Bring back Merino, I hear them call, all year round.
From both sustainability and ease-of-wear perspectives, Merino makes sense; it is timeless and essential. As a natural fibre, Merino is inherently more eco-friendly than its synthetic counterparts and, as The Woolmark Company notes, Merino uses nearly 70 per cent less water than cotton to produce 100 sweaters. When used alone, it’s 100 per cent biodegradable, returning to the Earth where it once had come — dust to dust, and all that.
As Raquel Boedo of McIntyre Merino tells me, “The fashion industry needs to become more sustainable, and consumers are starting to demand this.” Savvy brands are responding accordingly.
It is only logical that Australia lead the pack as the provider of over 80 per cent of the world’s Merino. Accordingly, Victoria-based McIntyre Merino is challenging the use of Merino within the local and international fashion industries. The label has a unique spin on wools’ perceived uses that are a far cry from the chunky knits and scarves typically envisioned. “We set out to make wool cool again by focusing on-trend cuts and colours,” Boedo mentions. Comfortable bralettes sit alongside singlets, bike shorts, dresses — and the necessary cardigans and sweaters — and demonstrate a playfulness with colour. Pastel pink, soft orange, and slime green bring the pieces up-to-speed with global fashion trends.
Looking internationally, New York-based PH5 has been flipping the notion of traditional knitwear since 2014. The brand now has a recognised name, offering whimsical knitwear — pieces that insinuate a day well-spent at the candy store, pockets full of colourful sugar bombs. While the brand delves into other knitted fibres as well (including a consciously-sourced Eco-Vero viscose), the story stands: Merino can be fun. Maybe we all need a bold mini skirt with scalloped detailing in our lives.
Functionally, Merino is incredibly breathable. Yes, wool will keep you warm at night, but Merino is also famed for temperature regulating when warm. It’s a quality that deems it perfect for activewear, as several brands would tell.
In 2014, Allbirds launched the Wool Runner which has since become a worldwide phenomenon (many thanks to tech bros and celebrities, including Ben Affleck, Ashton Kutcher and Kristen Stewart). They are the ultra-comfortable runners that can be worn sans socks and promise to minimise odours, thanks to Merino’s moisture-wicking abilities. A saviour for one’s feet we may presume.
NAGNATA brings the functionality to sportswear across their range of performance seamless knitwear, in partnership with The Woolmark Company. The influencers, the on-trend, the yogis, all rave (myself included). The athletic offering spans bike shorts, crops, tanks, sweaters, and slightly sheer knit tees, destined for use even on work-out-free days.
A lesser-known Merino quality: garments are less likely to get dirty, smelly, or require constant washing. With less laundering, a more sustainable piece arises — washing contributes one-quarter of a garment’s carbon footprint throughout its lifetime. Instead, the occasional wash will do or, even better, NAGNATA encourages a spot clean here and there.
Merino has even infiltrated the swimwear market, albeit timidly — for now. According to tales from grandparents, the woollen swimwear of the yesteryears was nothing to write home about. It was almost dreadful enough to prevent a dip in the ocean in the first place. Kelly Slater’s Outerknown rose to the challenge, though. Outerknown’s Merino wool boardshorts (the ‘Woolaroo’) were intended to reduce ocean plastics and provide a more sustainable option for swimwear. A woollen alternative still sheds microfibres, but these are fully biodegradable, unlike the plastics clogging the system.
Due in part to The Woolmark Company, Merino is undergoing a serious facelift. Collaborations with international labels, including Jacquemus’ SS18 La Bomba collection, have altered the way we see wool. Wool can be sexy; it can be tight; it can arrest a crowd. All without a drop of sweat or beanie in sight. As Boedo says, “Once you start wearing this fibre, it sucks you in, and you don’t want to wear anything else!” Thank God there are brands out there doing the hard yards for us. Reap the benefits year-round.