Merino: A Perfect Fibre in an Imperfect World

While summer is officially over (in the Southern Hemisphere) and the days are growing gloomier, we sewers know it’s nothing to despair over. The rain and wind are a window to our new autumn and winter wardrobes.

At Drapers, we’re starting this season off right with – what else – but the perfect fibre for this imperfect world; merino wool. A truly timeless wardrobe staple perfect for chilly mornings followed by humid afternoons, down to its moisture-wicking properties and natural ability to regulate body temperature.

Merino should always be celebrated however we don’t get excited over any old knit… we’ve managed to get our hands on a specialised selection of Australian-grown and knitted merino. Australia currently stands as the preeminent global wool supplier, however, the dearth of working mills within Aussie makes this drop a rare find and has us excited.

Even more unique, this merino is made from something called core spun yarn. A spinning process, where a core fibre of nylon is completely encased within a shroud of merino fibres. Not only is the yarn stronger as a result of this process, it’s more durable with enhanced stretch capabilities to other merinos. Most importantly, this merino still behaves and feels as soft as we know merino to be, as it’s the only fibre actually touching your skin!

Originally hailing from Spain, the Merino sheep breed is characterised by a dense fleece of notably fine wool. As a result of centuries of careful breeding, these Merinos were kept under careful monopoly by the Spanish monarchy, with only a few gifted as gestures of political good-will (or smuggled out of Spain by way of Portugal). Through a rather complex web of connections involving the King of Spain, the Dutch government, the Dutch East India Company’s colonial occupying force in South Africa, and the widow of the Scottish governor of South Africa during its British rule, around a dozen Merino sheep ended up on the shores of New South Wales at the cusp of the 19th Century.

Thriving in the warm and verdant climate of Australia the Merino breed proliferated, with the superb quality of their wool marking the breed as a sure investment. Today, around three-quarters of all sheep in Australia are Merinos and the growth and production of wool is one of Australia’s most substantial exports with an annual return consistently over a billion AUD.

Australian sheep give their wool to countless mills in countless countries, and the products which are made from them end up in countless more. The fine quality of their wool - particularly Merino - makes it especially desirable within the apparel market, with over 50% of the wool grown and produced in, you guessed it, Australia. Turned into everything from hats to thermals to shoes, the thread of Australian Merino enmeshes our world.

Far-and-away the biggest importers of Australian wool is China, who takes in 76% of all exported wool. The second biggest importer of Australian wool is India who sit at 5.5%. This global hunger for the superior quality of Australian wool and the importance of the industry to the socio-economic fabric of Australia seems to have curtailed the domestic processing industry; with the focus put on growth and production of raw wool.

However, there are still mills – much like the one we have sourced our new merinos from – which operate today, knitting world-class fabric from the world-class yarn produced in their back-yards… No, literally in their back-yards. Many of these mills are based around the south-eastern coast in New South Wales and Victoria, the two states which account for over half of the wool production in the country.

This dominance in the market necessitates stringent regulation and surveying. National and State legislation, along with multiple governmental and non-governmental bodies, keep a careful eye on the regulation of sheep welfare, biosecurity, trade and export, and the continued sustainability of the industry. Growers contribute a portion of their earnings to a national Wool Levy, a rate which is then matched by the Australian government. The funds from this levy are turned directly back to research and development focused on all levels within the industry. Because of this dedicated time and attention Australia leads the industry in sheep genetics and pharmaceuticals, animal husbandry, wool traceability and provenance. (Did you know, each clip of wool can be traced back to a particular flock of sheep at a particular farm!)

We have Australia to thank for codifying the widely used wool measurement systems for the length, strength, and diameter of the fibres. So if you’d wondered why we included a measurement in microns in the descriptions of our merinos (18.5 µm or micrometres to be exact), you have the Aussie wool industry to thank for an easy way to identify the fineness of the yarn! And not so coincidentally, Australia is the birthplace of Woolmark; the now-iconic logo gracing the tags of wool products globally to denote composition, quality, and durability.

In this time of ecological upheaval and rampant climate change, wool is not only a good choice but a responsible one. Entirely natural, renewable, and biodegradable; wool, as is so eloquently put on the Woolmark website, a circular fibre by nature. Australian wool growers and the Aussie government have devoted much energy and funds on researching and developing the sustainability of this industry: pasture plant breeding, grazing management and rehabilitation of degraded areas, and drought resilience have been developed so as to bring the environment and the industry into as sweet a harmony as is possible. Merino is good for us and good for our world.

Written by Chani Balmer, Drapers Manager

Don't know how to care for your wool? We promise it's easier than you think. Read how to here

Shop our latest arrival of Australian merino here

Shop our full merino range here

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