Conversation with Love Merino’s founder, Pip Smith

Love Merino
Love Merino
Love Merino
Love Merino

Pip, you’re a 5th generation sheep farmer. Tell us a bit about your sheep station, Glenwood.

Well technically my husband Norm is the 5th generation sheep farmer,  I run the mothership. We’re very blessed to live on Glenwood – which is situated 30km NE of Wellington in an area known as Spicer’s Creek. It’s a beautiful part of NSW. We live in the hills – which is a great place to run sheep and for our five children to grow up. Glenwood is about 7000 acres and in a normal season we can run about 14,000 sheep producing the most beautiful fibre in the world – Merino wool.

Is it true that your scarves can be traced back to a specific flock?!

Absolutely. Yes, it’s true – we can trace our scarves back to specific flocks of sheep. Norm selects the very best Merino fleece wool from shearing to go into the production line of our gorgeous scarves. Feel free to call in and we’ll show you.

What are the unique qualities of Merino wool?

Firstly they are moisture resistant, drawing moisture away from the skin /body and either absorbing or releasing the moisture, which then eliminates clamminess and ensures that the merino products remain odour-free and that you stay drier for longer. Did you know that Merino can absorb up to 35% of its own weight in moisture? The Merino fibres work this way in our scarves the same as they do in our sheep.

It’s temperature regulating. Merino is an active fibre – and is able to react to your body temperature – so when it’s cold Merino will keep you warm and in when it’s hot Merino will keep you cool.

It’s odour resistant. The lanolin in merino wool prevents mildew and bacteria from building up on your clothing and any odour molecules are absorbed into the merino fibre stopping the build-up of unpleasant odours.

It’s  UV resistant. Merino wool has a UV factor of between 30 and 50 UVP and this allows the fibres to absorb UV radiation throughout the entire UV spectrum, which adds a layer of protection against harmful rays.

It’s long lasting. Although merino wool tends to be more expensive than synthetic fibres it will last a lot longer so you’ll not have to repurchase every few months. Merino wool fibres can bend over 20,000 times without breaking so will not lose shape or get holes.

It’s soft and confortable. Merino wool is super soft against the skin and unlike traditional wool it doesn’t irritate or itch the skin. The merino fibres are so fine that when they come into contact with the skin they bend.

You’ve developed a more ethical and sustainable wool, talk to us about that.

Our merino wool is sourced from our sheep that have not been mulesed. Maintaining high animal welfare standards is an essential part of our values and we believe in best farm practice and the use of ‘ethical wool’. We adhere to an independent third party global audit scheme – RWS – Responsible Wool Standard – which was developed by the Textiles exchange in the USA – of which many retail companies are a part of. We were the second merino farm in Australia to be inspected by RWS and to be given accreditation.

Is there anything else that separates your raw product from other wool producers?

There are other wool producers and companies that are practicing holistic management and do not mules their sheep but there are very few that I know of producing their own products from their own Merino wool – from paddock to fabric – we are a small Australian farm.  Ethical, sustainable and collectable.

What made a sheep farmer turn her hand to making fine merino scarves?

For 20 years we have watched our beautiful wool being sold in the auction system after shearing and we never knew where our Merino wool ended up – so it has been a dream of both my husband Norm and myself to know where our wool ended up and the products that they produced. Love Merino Scarves make up a very small percentage of our wool clip – it is very satisfying to know and hold an end product in our hand that we know we have produced.

Tell us about the design process, from selecting the wool to your finished product.

As I said Norm selects the top fleece merino wool from shearing – these top bales are then taken by truck to the wool stores in Bathurst – onto Sydney to the port where the wool is transported by ship to China to one of the world’s biggest textile company. Here it is washed – carded – combed and spun in to yarn. So, it is basically washed in a big washing machine to clean it and remove any dust and particles – then through a machine where it is carded/combed/brushed back into alignment ending up as “TOP” – which looks like a big ice cream cone – then it goes through a spinning machine where the wool is spun into yarn – literally ending up on a big reel that looks like a massive cotton real with the most amazing fibre – wool.

We then ship this yarn back from China to Melbourne to be knitted into fabric at: “AB Knitwear” in Brunswick, Melbourne. From here we transport the fabric to Sydney where it is hand dyed at Shibori in Stanmore by Pepa and Kate or screen printed at “Publisher Textiles” in Leichardt by Steph and Mar.  The edges are then finished and we arrange for the product at this stage to be transported to Glenwood where we store the Love Merino products until they are purchased by the customer online. I then package and post the Love Merino scarves out from our local post office in Wellington.

It is a long and complicated process – 10 years ago you could do it all in Australia but unfortunately with the cost of production and manufacturing like many things it has moved off shore.  We could have our products cuts – sewn – dyed and finished overseas and they would be a lot cheaper and half the cost but – we then lose that transparent process and being able to call it Australian made.

What makes you most proud of Love Merino?

My family. It’s our life – our story – our business. Health and happiness is the most important thing in life – we love our family, we love our sheep we love our farm and we know you will love our Merino’s and our products.