Icebreaker calls on farmers to explain origins

Iconic merino clothing company Icebreaker has enlisted its back country wool suppliers to give its international customers an idea of what they are wearing.

Now selling in 24 countries, the Wellington-based company's new range of garments include individual "baa-codes" which, when typed into the company's website, take customers to where the wool originated from.

The website points out farm locations and includes comments or a video from the farmers about themselves or their operation.

Icebreaker marketing executive Emma van Asch said the merino wool was sourced from about 120 sheep stations and she had been in touch with many farmers to try to talk them into making guest online appearances.

While some didn't want a baa of it, others were happy to co-operate.

"They actually wrote all that stuff themselves, some of them gave us some pretty weird and wonderful stories, but they were pretty helpful - especially with the videos."

One of them, Glen Curtis, explains his introduction to farming; "I never wanted to be a farmer, I thought all farmers were mad. But when I was at school I did some holiday work for Ray Anderson at Branch Creek (in Central Otago).

"After a while I thought `gee, this is quite cool'. Ray's daughter Issi was pretty cool too - we're married now."

Ms van Asch said the wool supply chain, starting with the farm and ending as a garment, was quite a long one and the wool went through several different steps in between. A computerised system made the tracking process much easier.

"We've always been able to track the wool, but it's been a very long paper trail rather than a computerised system where you can just type in a number."

Among the 120 stations the wool was contracted from, about 25 featured on the website with input from the farmers, but more were likely to be added.

Ms van Asch said garments used a blend of wools from different farms, so garments were realistically linked to more than one farm.

She said while pushing the sustainability and environmentally friendly message was nothing new, it was good to be able to go further then just talking about it.

"It helps people feel something about the garment they have on their back. They know where it has come from and that it has some integrity."

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