It was around two and a half years ago that Fjällräven CEO Martin Axelhed and Brattlandsgården farm owner Natasha Skott first brainstormed the idea of Fjällräven’s own Swedish wool products. After a lot of hard work, hundreds of emails and telephone calls, hours devoted to meetings, train trips from Stockholm to Åre (where the farm is based) and some dedicated creative designing, Brattlands Sweater No 1 is finally available to buy. But while the sweater is a completed item, how we work with wool and Brattlandsgården is by no means set in stone. The pilot project may be over, but our commitment to traceable wool and working with our own sheep is just getting started.
“I’m really satisfied with the sweater. It’s really warm and the quality is fantastic,” says Cecilia Yoon, head of purchasing and production at Fjällräven. “But there has definitely been lots to learn along the way.”
For example, the weight of the sweater has increased since we made the first samples. The women’s sweater has gone up by more than 100g but the men’s now weighs 910g instead of 600g. Because the amount of wool we had to play with was finite, this has resulted in a reduction in the overall number of sweaters, down to 76 from 120.
The sweaters are also thicker than planned. This has affected the sizing. So we’ve had to adjust that too. “And”, says Cecilia, “we’re also getting used to the different feel and smell of the Brattlands Sweater. The wool is not washed with any chemicals and it’s not dyed. So it’s quite different to the wool we’re used to working with.”
But this has always been more than about a warm, wooly product. In 2014 we launched our Down Promise, which ensured traceable down and animal welfare for the ducks and geese. A Wool Promise has been in the works for a long time, but thanks to this project it’s finally starting to take shape.
“A big part of the Brattlands pilot project was to help us streamline our global wool supply chain to ensure traceability across the board. And over the past few years we’ve learned a lot about wool as a material and about how to source it,” explains Christiane Dolva, head of sustainability at Fjällräven. “We’ve learned a new language basically and we’re now developing a wool standard together with Swedish veterinarians and Brattlandsgården farm. This follows the global wool standard, but with input from both farming and animal welfare experts. This will be the basis for our own Wool Promise. And we’ll use this when in discussion with our global wool suppliers. Without this pilot, we wouldn’t have been able to develop our own Wool Promise that we can stand by 100%.”
A lot of work is still to come, mind you. We can’t just change suppliers with the click of our fingers. We have existing agreements with spinners. We have products that are already in production. It will take time and lots of testing.
The other way of working, explains Christiane, is to look for global organisations that can trace wool back to farm level and ask them if they can supply us with the high-quality wool we need.
“We are looking – and we think we’ve found – spinners that can work with the wool suppliers we want to work with.” Says Christiane. “It can be a bit tricky to nominate a wool supplier to a spinning mill, as they usually have preferred wool suppliers. But we think we’re finally making progress with this now. But it’s been a real process and it’s required a change of set-up. And we’ve had to focus on products that have a high percentage of wool. This is where we have the most impact and the most clout to get the spinners to work with our chosen suppliers.”
It sounds like pain staining work. But it’s something the team feels passionately about. “It’s a really special project,” says Christiane. “Because of Brattlands we’ve learned so much and regardless of what happens with the sweaters we can say the project has been a success. We haven’t taken the easiest path to learn more about wool. But it’s really unique.”
So what does the future hold for Brattlands wool?
“We’re already looking into what products we want to produce for winter 2018 using Brattlands Wool,” says Cecilia. “Right now we have samples of beanie hats and scarves. And we’d like to continue with the sweaters. It’d be nice to have a Brattlands collection. But we’re also looking at working with a bigger spinning mill. The micro size of Ullforum meant that it became a bottleneck. We have slightly more wool to play with now, as new sheep were born during the summer, so that means we’ll need a bigger spinnery. We think we’ve found one, but we need to do some product testing first. Their machines usually work with heavier wool, so we need to see if they can adapt to our super fine wool.”
But because the first round is complete, we’ve now built up some pretty good relationships and we’ve helped kick start a part of the wool industry that had pretty much been eradicated in Sweden. We hope that our partners see the bigger picture too and will help us reinvigorate the Swedish wool industry.
It’s been a participatory project. The whole office has been involved in some way. We’ve learned a lot, not just about the amazing natural properties of wool. But also about working with animals, producing in a way that is respectful of nature. And of working together as a team towards a common goal.
We all hope you like the new sweaters. And we hope you’ve enjoyed following our Swedish wool journey. This is by no means the end. Just the first (and most challenging) chapter in, what we count on being, a long wooly story.
Text: Sarah Benton