TRAVELOG 04: TWIZEL, SOUTH ISLAND, NZ: FARM TO WEAR
Our Fall/Winter 18 collection took us to the South Island of New Zealand. We immersed ourselves in undeveloped scenery, from high Alpine passes to jungle walking tracks, wine country and idyllic pastures with sheep. As a bonus part of the trip, one of our fabric mills, Global Merino, offered to have us hosted on a sheep station that they source their merino wool from called Glenbrook Station.
Glenbrook Station, is a little over 9,000 acres (3,700 hectares) outside of Twizel on State Highway 8 in North Otago. We were hosted for a night by the owners, Kirsty and Simon Williamson and their 3 adventurous boys. They involved us in daily chores, a tour of the grounds, farm and the wool production process. The evening ended with an amazing home cooked meal of fresh lamb and beef (Kirsty used to be a traveling chef in France, amongst her many talents) and fascinating discussion about sustainable wool production.
Ted, the oldest son, incredibly mature for 11, drove us all in a Suzuki Samurai. He cruised around the property, highlighting points of interest and driving more proficiently on the left than any of our team. He explained that the ewes graze in the hills during most of the year, as their feet are susceptible to hoof rot if they stay in the wet lowlands. We later played a cricket game on the lawn with all the boys and showed them how to fly our drone.
Simon and Kirsty own around 3,000 merino ewes and up to 4,000 lambs, in addition to raising cattle, race horses, and a variety of pets. I walked with Simon around the grain silos and the barn where shearing is done, and he explained their sustainable practices. “Sheep are only sheared once a year, to provide them with adequate wool for warmth during the cold months.” The sheep graze happily, because they have 400 hectares that are cropped with mustard, bok choy, radish, peas, white clover and chicory which is all baled up and is fed out on the farm. After cropping, he puts water back on the paddocks and they come up as feed. “Customers are more interested today in how products are produced and if the wool is grown sustainably, they want to know from the ground up how the sheep’s been treated. And for the wool grower, it’s a wonderful to be in touch with the brands that make the products and end users,” says Simon.
We were able to capture some amazing drone footage the next morning with Simon as he worked the dogs in herding the lambs. There are two types of dogs, headers and drivers. Headers, stare down the lambs, zig-zagging back and forth, keeping them in a group. The drivers, commonly a New Zealand Huntaway, bark (a lot) and push the sheep forward. Simon sent the dogs voice signals, but for the most part, they seem to know what to do instinctively. It was an amazing sight.
Wool production in New Zealand has changed significantly in the last 36 years. In 1982 there were over 70 million sheep in New Zealand. But as of 2018, the number of New Zealand sheep has dropped below 25 million. We were told that farming dairy cows has become more lucrative with the ability to sell milk to China. New Zealand still produces the highest quality merino wool and avoids the inhumane and archaic practice of mulesing. Several years ago Simon and Kirsty, together with a fellow Kiwi, started State Highway 8 Merino, selling their wool direct to the US, supplying and sourcing wool for sock manufacturer Point6 (our new favorite socks) and working closely with Global Merino, based in San Francisco.
We said our goodbyes after just a day and a half, although we would have loved to stay for another week, and drove the long road to Christchurch.
Our NZ Collection epitomizes our brand with its clean design, high performance fabric and versatility that can travel from the Routeburn Track, to mountain biking in Queenstown, up Mt. Cook, to wine tasting in Nelson and dining out in Christchurch. We named our Glenbrook Merino 2-Pocket Workshirt after Glenbrook Station, as it is truly a farm-to-wear piece that will remind us fondly of our visit with the Williamson family and their sheep.