Wool is going to win, new bedding company says

Southland farmers Nicola and Tom Wylie, pictured with children Georgia,Alex and Hunter, have...
Southland farmers Nicola and Tom Wylie, pictured with children Georgia,Alex and Hunter, have taken the proverbial bull by the horns and developed a bedding range from their strong wool. Photos: Francine Boer
It is becoming a familiar story — strong-wool growers, frustrated by pitiful returns for their wool, despite it ticking all the environmental and sustainability boxes and against a backdrop of rising costs, deciding to do something about it.

Meet Nicola Wylie, a fifth-generation sheep farmer who farms with her husband Tom on her family farm, in the Lora Valley in Southland, which is home to 7000 sheep.

It is those sheep, which grow 27 tonnes of wool each year, that are the inspiration behind Lora & Flok, a bedding business producing pillows and duvets from the family’s homegrown fibre.

The property, a 20-minute drive from Winton, has been in Mrs Wylie’s family since 1872.

She was the first woman to carry on the farm, although she said "in saying that, Tom is very much the key driver ... I’m more of the assistant".

The couple have three children: Georgia, 11, Hunter, 8, and Alex, 7, and it was when their youngest was nearing school age that Mrs Wylie realised she needed to figure out what she wanted to do.

Brainstorming ideas, she acknowledged that while she enjoyed being on farm, she did not want to do that from 9am to 3pm every day.

The couple decided to look to do something with their wool, motivated by the low prices and also other farmers doing interesting things with their clips, and settled on bedding.

A hot sleeper herself, Mrs Wylie always struggled with feather and down bedding.

Looking at the characteristics of their wool and what they could do with it, they discovered it was high bulk and, in terms of a filler fibre, the bulkier the better, so it was ideal for bedding.

It has been a big learning curve for Mrs Wylie, who started to investigate the production process and found a factory in Christchurch which was "keen to give us a crack".

The wool was scoured near Timaru and it was then engineered into two different products to use for Lora & Flok’s pillows and duvets.

Flok Fill was a loose filling of soft, springy wool balls that was ideal for pillows. When it was combined with other non-engineered Lora Valley wool it created a "web" of slightly more structured wool filling for duvets.

Lora & Flok launched in September last year and Mrs Wylie felt both proud and excited when she saw the first products, knowing they were created from homegrown wool.

In the past, the couple had little idea where their clip was destined for, only that most of it would go into carpet.

To be able to bring it back and create it into something, and the delight from customers with the end product, was quite special.

It had been a challenge and continued to be a challenge, but it was also very rewarding.

It was a venture which fitted in with the family’s lifestyle and it "fills my bucket", she said.

One of the couple’s goals was to see more people choosing wool over any other fibre, and not just for bedding.

New Zealanders were surrounded by sheep, yet many did not know the benefits of wool.

Bedding made use of a lot of those benefits, including being odour repelling, flame resistant and temperature controlling, and it was about making people aware of the attributes and seeing it as a superior fibre rather than "old school and frumpty and itchy".

Their main driver was to improve their farming operation’s bottom line and while she acknowledged that was not going to improve everyone’s wool returns, if people could see it as the top fibre choice, then hopefully that would help with the shift.

"I feel like wool is going to win in the long run," she said.

Mrs Wylie was looking forward to next week’s Wānaka A&P Show, where Lora & Flok would have a display in the Campaign for Wool tent on Friday and Saturday.

 - A record number of fine wool fleeces have been entered at the show, vying for the victory in the New Zealand fine wool supreme fleece competition.

Judge Craig Smith said judges had been impressed by the quality of fleeces and interest from major wool growers throughout the South Island.

The competition was introduced at last year’s show and interest had grown from there.

This year, 236 fleeces from more than 53 properties were entered and the winning fleece would be on display at the show.

Mr Smith believed it was a possibility a perfect 100-point fleece could be among the entries.

sally.rae@odt.co.nz

 

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