Last week I learned a whole lot about wool—specifically, New Zealand wool, and how amazingly beautiful and sustainable it is. How did that happen? you ask. Well, while in Salt Lake City to speak on a sustainability and design panel at the Alt Design Summit, I spent the day with Howie Gardner, a 3rd generation New Zealand sheep farmer, to learn about the launch of Just Shorn, the official brand of New Zealand-grown wool. And if I didn't already think that wool carpets were far superior to synthetic for a whole host of reasons, I certainly think it now. Here's why:
Background on Wool
Wool used to make up 97% of the worldwide carpet and rugs market, but due to the rise of synthetic fabrics, it now only accounts for 3% of the market. New Zealand is one of the primary exporters of wool, and while the population of the country has increased in recent decades from 2 million to 4.3 million, the number of sheep has decreased from 75 million to around 34.5 million. Prices for wool have declined, and the cost of producing wool for New Zealand's sheep farmers is now more than what they're able to get for it.
However, the move towards more sustainable, earth-friendly living means wool is back in the spotlight. Its inherent green qualities—natural, sustainable, renewable, recyclable, and biodegradable— make it the perfect material for the design-and-environment-conscious consumer.
About Just Shorn
What is Just Shorn? Just Shorn is "home to the finest New Zealand wool carpets and rugs in the world." The most unique thing about Just Shorn wool is its backstory and its complete transparency. In the same way you can know the farmer who grows your fruits and vegetables, Just Shorn wants you to know the farmer who grows your wool. Go to their website and meet the sheep farmers; learn why wool is naturally flame-retardant, hypo-allergenic, and water-repellant; be completely confident about the wool's content and point of origin with Just Shorn's patented tracing system, learn about the farms' sustainability practices and its stringent animal care standards. As Howie told me, shearing a sheep is like getting a haircut. All farms that are part of the Just Shorn brand have to meet "the 5 Freedoms" established for animal welfare:
- freedom from hunger and thirst
- freedom from discomfort
- freedom from paint, injury and disease
- freedom to express normal behavior
- freedom from fear and distress
How Just Shorn Wool is Produced
Just Shorn wants you to be confident in your knowledge that their wool is not only beautiful, but responsibly and humanely produced, and the very best quality. Once the sheep are sheared and the wool leaves the farm, it is then cleaned (washed in hot water with no chemicals), processed, and spun into yarn for carpet weaving. But to ensure their wool isn't mixed with inferior wool or fibers somewhere along the supply chain, Just Shorn inserts a microscopic amount of inert traceable fiber into the wool during the scouring stage which is detected by scanners at each point in the manufacturing process. In this way they're able to assure customers of the integrity of their wool.
Should we be concerned about the safety of this traceable fiber? I wondered that, too, but according to Just Shorn, the inert fiber is applied in such miniscule amounts that there's nothing to be concerned about. And it's the most effective way to reassure customers that the rug they're buying is indeed made with 100% New Zealand wool, and not a mixture of wool sourced from other countries (like China) and under unknown conditions.
Where You Can Buy Just Shorn Rugs & Carpets
Just Shorn carpets are the newest addition to the Dabbieri Collection of floor coverings. View the collection online and click here to find a dealer near you. Area rug prices start at $2,700 and broadloom carpet ranges from $30-$100/yd. All rugs are made in Australia, the US, or Nepal (where they've partnered with Nepalese artisans) and are dyed with eco-friendly dyes.
I love both of Just Shorn's mottos: "Natural. Sustainable, Beautiful" and "From Our Farms to Your Floor." Next time you go rug shopping be on the lookout for Just Shorn's signature ear tag, and make sure to check out the website for more!