Colorado's SmartWool Corporation, the largest branded purchaser of New Zealand merino wool, has announced a sourcing partnership with The New Zealand Merino Company that guarantees minimum price levels for New Zealand wool growers producing merino wool for use in SmartWool's products. The new contract, which follows on two previous multi-year contracts between the parties, is "unparalleled in the industry", said SmartWool. The seven year deal is worth $30m.

No-itch outdoor clobber maker does ‘fair trade’ deal with smart sheep

Historically, merino wool has been bought and sold at auction, with no connection between the end-user of the wool and the wool grower. Thus, the wool grower had no appreciation for the intended use of the wool, and thus

could not raise sheep or produce wool to meet specific quality standards, said a statement from SmartWool Corp.

Four years ago, SmartWool started purchasing its wool under fixed price contracts with specific New Zealand wool producers. The newest SmartWool contract takes this partnership one step further, providing for an "unprecedented" seven-year term and establishing a minimum price to the wool grower that ensures the grower a reasonable return on their investment in raising ‘Smart sheep’.

"This relationship provides certainty, stability and a fair return to the growers, and enables us to focus on long-term improvements in breeding and raising sheep to SmartWool’s exacting specifications," said NZ sheep farmer.

"It also helps to ensure that raising sheep in New Zealand will remain a viable and sustainable lifestyle for me

and my family for many years to come."

SmartWool President, Chip Coe, said: "SmartWool has a rich history of leadership and innovation, having essentially created the market for merino wool active apparel over the last ten years. We are pleased to again take a leadership position by guaranteeing our wool growers a sustainable profit and rewarding them for working together with us

toward processes that benefit the animals and the environment."

Issuing a challenge to the outdoor and lifestyle apparel industry to join with SmartWool, Coe said "SmartWool looks forward to other companies joining our efforts to bring stability and sustainability to the wool industry with new and innovative programs such as this partnership. The industry needs more long-range thinking. It is not enough to sign on to a publicity-oriented boycott and walk away."

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