Wool animal

It's time for wool to come out of the shadows

By Anna Campbell

I am writing this on Easter Monday with the sun streaming into my living room. I had forgotten what the sun looks like - rather lovely, in fact, as steam rises off the concrete and we begin to dry out.

A wet Easter has meant we have finally got around to painting our daughter's room. A mammoth task, not so much the painting, but the actual decluttering.

Eleven years old is that transition age, where fluffy and cuddly are no longer cool. Neither is Taylor Swift; she has been swapped for some rap-type music full of swear words that I am not quite coping with.

Anyway, it's out with the old and in with the new in this house. Some of the old will go off to the Salvation Army, some will go for a temporary stay in our attic and unfortunately, some will go into landfill.

Guilt, of course, accompanies the landfill trip, as we hear more and more about problems with waste. I watched a video recently which demonstrated the hideous effects of the amount of plastic we are using and disposing of ending up in the ocean.

It was horrifying seeing not only the impact of the usual culprit - plastic bags, but the impact of non-degradable fibres from cleaning products and synthetic clothes ending up in marine ecosystems. It was somewhat overwhelming and surely a sign that we have gone too far in the types of products we are developing.

In the fibre world, does this mean we will start to see a greater drive to return to natural products? Could this mean there is a path back for wool? I would love to think so. Icebreaker was a great start and there are some great new stories which are truly inspirational.

One is that of former All Whites captain Tim Brown, who founded Allbirds, the environmentally friendly merino wool shoe company. A friend of mine was stopped in New York wearing her Allbirds by a woman who could not rave enough about her pair and, take it from me, there is a lot to love. Wearing them is liking permanently wearing slippers.

A new wool story coming to light is a from a company called Lanaco (previously known as Texus Fibres). It is using New Zealand wool to develop sustainable air filters, initially for face masks, using wool's natural properties and clever science to manufacture the filters.

The moisture-absorbing and breathing properties of wool fibres mean the masks are easier to breathe through and minimise bacterial load compared with synthetic filters. That may not sound so exciting for a New Zealand consumer, but for a consumer living in air-polluted Beijing it's a pretty exciting proposition.

I have personally worked with one of their entrepreneurial team, Wanaka-based Andy Ramsden, for some time and knowing Andy and his levels of energy, it's safe to say face masks will be just the start for this company and we will hear a lot more in the future.

What else could we be doing with wool?

Much has been invested in previous decades into taking wool fibre further but unfortunately, through a series of funding cuts, many of our wool scientists have been lost to New Zealand science.

Maybe some of their work was before its time, before a time we became so overwhelmed with synthetic plastic that we started seriously looking for alternatives. I hope this is so and Allbirds and Lanaco are the start of a wool revolution.

We have long thought of wool as useful for clothing and carpets, but shoes and air filters are new, and there will be many other such products right through to using natural fibres in our cleaning or even our food products.

It sure is exciting, but it's time for me to enjoy the last of the Easter sun and take my dogs for a walk ... in my Allbirds of course!