Wool & merino wool — nature’s sci-fi material
Wool in general and specifically merino wool (a soft, fine version from merino sheep) have fantastic properties—almost like something out of a sci-fi movie. Of all the natural materials known, only wool’s unique combination of properties make it perfect for clothing—especially garments worn directly on, or close to, the body. We use Swedish wool, various European wools and merino wool (certified mulesing-free* of course) because of these important features:
- Wool has an incredible warmth-to-volume ratio; for example, a relatively light and thin merino wool sweater is quite warm.
- While wool keeps you warm when it’s cold, it also “breathes” exceptionally well, keeping you comfortable when it's hot.
- Wool is great at absorbing and transporting moisture away from the body, keeping you drier and reducing the risk of getting cold.
- Wool retains its insulating qualities even when wet; contrast this with, for example, wet down, which completely loses its warming ability.
- Wool is also naturally antibacterial; with use, it doesn’t immediately start to smell as with synthetics, and doesn’t need to be washed as often—airing is usually enough.
How Tierra Uses Wool
Like several other brands, we ve used wool and merino wool to make t-shirts, underwear, mid-layers and hats for decades. The difference is that we think wool, with its other-worldly properties, should be used for more types of clothing.
The first Tierra collection born of this vision was Belay, a series of light, wear-resistant insulated garments—with a lining of wool saved from being thrown away. The most common linings for insulated clothing are synthetic or down, but we thought wool was better-suited for insulation. The wool lining's light weight, ability to absorb and transport moisture and ability to regulate body temperature make the garments optimal both for adventures in the mountains and tours in town.
Taking Care of a Precious Resource
Wool is a natural and renewable material. And yet, the majority of wool produced in Sweden today—about 800 tonnes—is scrap that is buried in the ground. To make use of this wasted resource we began a collaboration with the Wool Office in Gotland, Sweden, and the German company Lavalan. Together we find and recover wool that would otherwise be thrown out and transform it into a highly functional lining material. The advantages of using recovered Swedish wool are many, among them a reduction in transport costs and carbon footprint—and a guarantee the sheep are treated well thanks to Sweden’s strong animal-welfare laws. The result is sustainably sourced, 100% renewable insulation.
What the Pros Say
Tierra’s test team, which includes qualified professional mountain guides, tested the Belay Series during its development phase. They found that you didn't have to remove and then put back on a Belay jacket as often as you would with regular synthetic-insulated jackets—meaning that the wool lining material better regulated a user’s temperature. They were also impressed by the Belay garments’ light weight and excellent breathability.
A Few Facts about Wool in Sweden**
In Sweden, of the approximately 1,000 tonnes of raw wool produced each year, over half is thrown away [see my comments about 500t vs. 800t in the “BELAY” document]. Of the wool that is retained, a bit more than 50% is exported—including to Great Britain. On the import side, 219 tonnes of washed, raw wool with a value of SEK 10.3 million? were brought into Sweden in 2017, mostly from New Zealand.
Gotland’s Ullkontoret is the only major wool laundry in Sweden; washing raw? wool here costs around four times as much per kilo as washing raw? wool in Belgium—transport included. As a result …? In 2017 alone, 1,240 tonnes of carded wool and yarn with a street value of SEK 248 million were imported from about 40 countries, the largest contributors being Norway, Peru, Germany and Turkey.
*Mulesing-free Merino Wool: Because Merino sheep have natural folds of skin on their rear, dirt and feces can accumulate, attracting parasitic flies to lay eggs in the folds. ”Mulesing” is a method by which this area is scalped smooth to prevent attacks from these pests. However, the procedure, often done without anesthesia, is considered quite painful and classified as animal cruelty. Tierra strongly distances itself from this methodology by only purchasing merino wool that is certified mulesing-free.
**Source: Swedish Sheep Breeding Association, Statistics Sweden.