It’s fitting that our first product from the first run of wool from our Swedish sheep is a simple sweater. The aim with this pilot project is to develop a fully traceable wool chain. And this means keeping things simple.
The clothing industry is hugely international. At Fjällräven we seek out the best skills, materials and techniques from all over the world. But this means our supply chains can get rather complicated. And it’s meant that our wool supply chain has got a bit hazy when it comes to tracing wool right back to the farm level.
Wool is often traded, auction style. And we don’t usually deal directly with farmers. So while we can trace supply back so far, we can’t go all the way. But this Swedish wool pilot project is changing all that.
Our Swedish wool comes from sheep that live in Åre, Sweden. It’s spun at Ullforum, just an hour away from the farm. It’s then knitted into sweaters at Ivanhoe near Borås in southern Sweden. And of course the designs – one for men and one for women – come from our R&D team here in Stockholm.
Sarah Isaksson is the designer responsible for the women’s version – a prototype of which our Social Media Manager, Sarah Benton, is wearing in the picture below.
The sweater isn’t fussy. It’s made from natural, un-coloured wool. It’s soft and smooth to the touch. And it’s incredibly warm. It’s just the kind of sweater you want to cosy up in on a stormy winter’s night with a mug of hot chocolate, a good book and, preferably, an open fire.
“That picture you have in your head of a winter sweater, well, this is it. The sweater has this ‘it’ll last forever’ feeling about it,” says Sarah Isaksson, Fjällräven Product Designer. “The sweater is quite heavy and structured. But the wool itself is really fine. It’s incredibly insulating making it a really warm garment. It’s a raglan style sweater and this means the sleeves are attached straight to the neckline rather than being straight cut. It gives a really comfortable, flexible sweater than doesn’t restrict movement and follows the body’s natural contours.”
Sarah has a long history as a designer and has worked with wool products since she started at Fjällräven two years ago. “I love working with knits. I get to actually design the fabric myself. Often you work with fabric designers, but with knitted garments you get to do the whole thing. I choose the thread, the knitting technique and create the design. It’s the whole process.”
But this process Sarah talks about, wasn’t without its challenges. “It’s a new breed we’re working with, so we had no idea how the fibre would turn out. As it happens it ended up being finer than we expected, which is great of course. But when Ivanhoe started working with the wool it kept getting stuck in their machines. They noticed that there were little clots or blobs of wool in the fibre, which sometimes split off and caused a blockage. So we had to change the spinning technique a bit. After this, everything ran a lot more smoothly.”
Which was good, because there wasn’t exactly a lot of wool to play with. We started with 70kgs of washed wool. And we expect to produce just 120 sweaters – a truly limited collection.
“The wool production rate is natural. We have to just wait for the sheep to produce more wool. So we have a limited amount to work with. Plus the whole process is expensive, especially because of the small scale but also because we chose to do things in Sweden. So we haven’t really figured out what to do next. But of course we can take the knowledge we’ve acquired so far and apply it to our other wool suppliers abroad.”
And that’s always been one of the main goals. This is a pilot project; a best practice scheme to see how we can improve the way we work with our wool; to not just produce the best possible products but also to know exactly where the wool comes from – right down to the farm.
“It’s great to get so close to the animals and know where the wool has come from. We can actually see it, which is really comforting. We know, ‘OK, they live there, they can run around in the field, go inside when it’s cold and windy and they have each other. So not only is this sweater really comfortable to wear, you can feel comfortable in the knowledge that the sheep have a good life too.”