New Zealand Merino fibres are long, strong, flexible and extremely fine. It is these distinctive characteristics that make New Zealand Merino so soft and comfortable against the skin. Merino provides insulation, moisture management, breathability, odour-resistance, stain-resistance, anti-static properties, flame resistance, comfort, and a natural degree of sun protection.
To be classed as "Superfine" the micron count of the fibre must be 19µ or less. "Fine" merino has a micron count of 19µ - 21µ. It is only in this micron count range that Merino wool becomes supersoft, and ideal for wearing next to the skin. There is an even finer micron count available, but as with fabric weight (measured in grams per square metre) there is a point at which durability is lost, which is why we stick to Superfine/190gsm and Fine/260gsm for all our baselayer range. A micron count below 16µ is only suitable for babywear or for mixing with other fibres such as silk or cashmere, clothing ranges for which durability is not required.
The Science Bit
Scientific tests carried out by the Hohenstein Institute in Germany, the Ergonomics Unit at the Polytechnic Institute of Wales, and the CSIRO in Australia support anecdotal evidence that Superfine Merino provides the wearer with superior overall climate control and moisture absorption than synthetics. Studies have also confirmed that merino offers higher natural UV protection than many other fibres including cotton.
Well-known for its warmth, it is less well known that the same properties make Merino the idea fabric for hot weather. The merino works as a condition buffer; in the heat cooling the body initially through managing the build up moisture vapour internally, keeping the wearer drier for longer. Then, by not clinging to the skin even when wet, the fabric allows the skin to still do it's job through sweating and cooling the body.
In the opinion of Andy Kirkpatrick, merino wool is the most advanced natural and robust insulation on the planet. On his article for Planet Fear he says:
"...synthetics just haven't hit all the bases. They may never do. They may be cheaper and easier to mass produce, but they’re not easier to care for and they don’t perform to the high standard of Merino.What's so special about New Zealand Merino wool?
The Merino sheep has been bred for its wool for over 2000 years and has many different strains around the world, but the world's best merino fibre comes from a small Merino population bred in isolation in the Southern Alps of New Zealand.
A Merino farm is typically 3,000-8,000 hectares in size and there are approximately only three sheep per hectare. New Zealand Merino, which is unrivalled in softness, purity and strength is therefore a very rare commodity.
|Glen Lyon, one of the sheep stations supplying Zque wool|
The Zque scheme does not offer single-farm traceability because wools from different growers have to be blended to produce the best yarn. However manufacturers can track and identify the group of growers that supplied wool into a particular contract. So none of this "we can trace the wool in your clothing to the exact farm/sheep it came from" nonsense!
New Zealand Merino is one of the purest, most ecological fibres. Only environmentally responsible, energy-efficient and safe production methods are used in its manufacture. New Zealand farmers use scientific land management techniques, and pay careful attention to flock rotation, animal welfare and the environment. Sheep are raised in a clean, green, unpolluted climate - natural advantages that enable them to consistently grow superior wool. No internationally banned pesticides are used on New Zealand sheep farms; and since 1993, New Zealand's already very low pesticide levels have been cut in half, making New Zealand's sheep one of the world's greenest animal husbandry systems.
With regard to climate change, there has been little research on greenhouse gas emission and carbon footprinting specific to Merino farming and there is no calculator by which farmers can work out their carbon footprint. However logically, large-scale extensive farming compsres favourably with oil-based synthetics and other more intensive natural fibre productions, such as cotton. What is certain is that wool is more energy-efficient than synthetics. A Life Cycle Assessment showed that Merino farms use much less energy to produce a kilogram of fibre than synthetic manufacturers, and this includes exporting to the other side of the world. Merino is therefore ahead of synthetics in being environmentally sustainable.
Sorry - no such thing! Well not if you're looking for genuine 100% superfine or fine NZ merino. This is rarer than cashmere. If it's "cheap" it is very unlikely to be the real thing. There are lots of other strains of Merino sheep to be found around the world - Australia, the US, South America, China, Germany, etc., so don't think that because something is labelled as "Merino" it will be smooth and fine enough to wear next to your skin.
There's also stuff coming from China labelled 100% merino that has been found to be a wool/synthetic mix. In addition companies in China may treat ordinary wool chemically to give it some of the "feel" of merino, and labels it merino, when it isn't merino at all.
What the experts in the wool industries in New Zealand and Australia are saying is that they do not believe there is enough quality superfine and fine merino available to meet China's manufacturing needs.
Companies across the world are now cashing in on Superfine Merino's hard earned reputation by labelling garments as "merino" when they are in fact a mix of merino and synthetic. They trademark names like "ActiveWool", "Powerwool" and "Prowool" to name but three. Great names - except these "wools" are 75% synthetic, 30% synthetic and 44% synthetic respectively. Whilst this is not illegal, we think it's certainly misleading.
Whatever reasons companies may give, the real reason for mixing synthetic with merino is to make production cheaper. It's synthetics that create the climate for the build-up of stink. It's synthetics that don't keep you warm wet wet. It's synthetics that don't adapt to changes in temperature, keeping you warm when it's cold, cool when it's hot. So adding synthetic to merino is simply going to reduce all the advantages of wearing merino.
What can the customer do to ensure they are getting the real thing? Being wary of buying "merino" at a low price is a good starter, because one thing is for sure, and that is genuine superfine merino is in short supply and is not "cheap". If you buy a cheap product it will NOT be the genuine article.
Chocolate Fish brings you the real thing; simple, quality New Zealand Superfine and Fine Merino clothing made in New Zealand, at realistic prices.