What is Merino wool and why is it worth it?
Sheep are found all over the world. More or less wherever there are humans you will find domesticated sheep. This is partly because there is pretty much a breed of sheep for any environment making them easy to farm.
But the main reason is they are very useful creatures in terms of human survival producing meat, milk and - of course - wool.
But surely it doesn’t matter what sheep produces what wool? Wool is wool right? It comes from sheep and it can be made - ironically - into woolly jumpers, scarves, felt and fuzzy linings for things.
Yes, but mostly no.
In modern farming different sheep serve a different purpose - some are used purely for meat, others just for their wool. Some for their milk. A primary use for the Alpines Steinschaf from Germany is vegetation management.
So when we say Merino wool is one of the most prized and highly sought after wools in the world, it actually means something.
Not all sheep were created equal
Sheep are incredibly hardy creatures, found in most parts of the world living in some unbelievably harsh conditions. Yet despite these conditions they are able to provide us with a good clip of wool as well as a decent cut of meat.
It is little wonder that so many countries rely on it as part of their livestock mix.
However, for all the qualities of the other breeds, the Merino is arguably the most influential breeds of sheep in history, entirely because of its wool.
In the 15th and 16th Centuries Merino wool is instrumental in the economic development of Spain which held a monopoly until the end of the 18th Century. The breed was then further refined, here, in New Zealand giving us the modern Merino wool we have today.
Let’s be honest, it’s not every day a sheep is responsible for propping up an entire country’s economy. But it did so for good reason.
Wool! What is it good for?
Sheep’s wool has always been immensely useful to mankind throughout the centuries but none quite so much as the Merino fleece simply because it’s rather unique.
The reason why Merino sheep can comfortably cope with temperatures ranging between -10 and +30 degrees Celcius us entirely down to the incredible properties of their fleece.
The fibres of the fleece behave differently to traditional wool. It’s lighter, softer and doesn’t itch making it far more versatile in its application.
Because of the fibres breathe it naturally keeps you warm in the winter and cool in the summer and - because the fibres aren’t clammy like other wools - Merino wool is odor resistant too.
These unique properties make it a suitable material for almost any item of clothing, providing a more comfortable wearer experience in the process. Which is pretty amazing stuff.
But is it worth it?
Sooner or later we need to start thinking about long term gains over the short term ones.
We live in a world of synthetic fibres and clothes so cheaply produced and sold that they can be worn once or twice and then thrown away without a second thought.
We are becoming as addicted to throwing things away as we are to buying them in the first place. It’s unsustainable and represents a long term greater expense than if we bought a single, naturally produced garment at a high ticket price.
Although synthetics - and even cottons - are lightweight and cheaper, they wear out rapidly or become misshapen from repeated washing - the polyester stretching in the heat of the wash. Plus synthetics do nothing for the sweatier individual.
Merino wool clothing is just as lightweight as synthetics but hard wearing, versatile, breathable, odor resistant and represents a great investment over time.
It’s also good for the environment as wool is naturally renewable - providing we keep feeding the sheep, recyclable and completely biodegradable.