Since launching KUIU in April, we have been answering a lot of questions regarding our merino program; why Merino and not synthetic? How KUIU’s compares to our competitors? In the following post I put together information on Merino wool and The Merino Company to help you understand merino and the advantages of KUIU’s Merino wool products.
After leaving Sitka, I spent over 18 months researching and testing fabrics for the KUIU line. This study of fabrics led me to Merino wool as the only base layer choice for back country hunting. Intrigued by this fabric and process I dug deeper into understanding merino wool and found not all Merino is the same. There is a quality and consistency difference in merino from the open global market versus buying directly from the farm that produces it.
The Merino Company has this distinct supply chain advantage over all other suppliers that guarantees a higher quality fabric. The Merino Company with offices in Australia and New Zealand has been in the Merino Wool business for well over 15o years. They have long established relationships with Merino growers in New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and South America. This ensures The Merino Company consistant access to the finest quality fibers and the knowledge of where each fiber of their fabric originates from, who’s growing it, how the sheep are handled and raised. Every other Merino supplier buys their fibers on the global market with NO knowledge of where their fibers come from.
“The TMC approach ensures there is minimal variation in wool quality throughout a supply chain, with transparency, traceability and tight controls from sheep to shelf (S2S).” states TMC
MERINO WOOL 101
Wool is a natural, renewable, sustainable and biodegradable fibre, and much like human hair is made of keratin. Keratin is a tough, insoluble protein with a unique structure it has a natural resistance to sunlight, water, acids, rot and mildew under most normal conditions.
Wool is expressed in microns, the unit of measurement used for the fibre’s diameter. One micron equals one millionth of a metre. The lower the micron of a fibre, the finer it is, and the finer the wool the softer it is next-to-skin. Wool fibres vary in diameter from 11 – 60 microns. Merino fibres are the finest of all wool types and are usually less than 24 micron. An overview of micron ranges:
Strong – or broad – wool: 23 – 24.5 microns
Medium: 19.6 – 22.9 microns
Fine: 18.6 – 19.5 microns
Superfine: 15 – 18.5 microns
Ultra fine: 11.5 – 15 microns.
To make a comparison, human hair is about 100 microns.
Merino is unique in its ability to keep you warm in the cold of a snowy winter, and cool in the heat of a humid summer, protecting the microclimate next-to-skin in changing conditions by absorbing and releasing moisture. The core of a Merino fibre is hydrophilic (water retaining), and is breathable, moving perspiration away from the skin so that you feel cool, fresh and dry during exertion.
The breathability, or the ability to dissipate perspiration, of Merino fabrics brings about temperature changes where two things can happen:
1) When there is a rise in humidity in the microclimate between the skin and the merino fabric, moisture vapor is absorbed then transported and released into the air outside of the fabric, keeping you dry, reducing clamminess, and creating a noticeable drop in temperature for the wearer.
2) Conversely, if the ambient temperature should drop, moisture from the air can be absorbed by Merino and converted to bound liquid, a process that produces a rise in temperature known as ‘heat of sorption’.
The active ability of Merino to react to changes in one’s body temperature and the microclimate above the skin is further enhanced by Merino’s insulation capacity. Merino has the ability to insulate the wearer from extremes of cold, and also help protect the individual from excessive heat. The thermal insulation provided by a Merino fabric is due to the air trapped between the fibres, and as Merino is much finer than most other textiles, it contains more air spaces, and provides greater insulation.
Merino is naturally odour reducing due to its physical and chemical structure. The ability of Merino to absorb and transport moisture (sweat) away from the skin where it evaporates into the air, prevents bacteria developing and creating unpleasant body odours. Sweat itself has no odour, but if it is allowed to remain on the skin, bacteria will develop and so will body odours. Merino fibres are scaly on their surface with no charge, providing an anti-microbial environment. This means that the bacteria are not attracted to or able to penetrate the scales, like they are the smooth, positively charged surface of a synthetic fibre.
Merino fibers are strong and long, enabling a durable fabric that is less likely to pill, and has excellent drape and wrinkle recovery. As Merino fibers are natural, and are made up of keratin proteins, they are very resilient – A Merino fiber can be bent 20,000 times without breaking. When a Merino fiber is wet, it can be extended up to 30% without damage. When the extension is released, the fiber then recovers completely to its original dimensions. The natural elasticity of Merino fibers means they stretch with the wearer, and then return to their natural shape so there is less chance of the garments losing their shape.
Together with the breathability, moisture control and thermoregulation that Merino provides, the fine micron of Merino ensures it feels soft and comfortable next to the skin. Unlike coarser micron wools, fine Merino fibers bend with pressure against the skin, flexing so as not to agitate the nerves.
I hope this information is useful in helping you better understand the advantages to Merino Wool and The Merino Companies supply chain quality advantages. I look forward as always to hearing your comments.