Megan Elizabeth is a wee bit obsessed with wool. “It is nothing short of brilliant in its simplicity,” coos the country Victoria local, as we settle in for a yarn (couldn’t help it). “Wool from happy sheep and caring farmers, wool that has not been stripped of its natural goodness or treated with chemicals. I love good wool.”
She’s the co-founder of Wool Days, a business she spun up with her beau Robert to “create a purposeful connection between where things come from and the people who love them,” bringing a farm-to-table philosophy to the wool trade.
“It needed to introduce transparency into an ‘old-fashioned’ industry and expose its unexplored potential,” she says, “but more than that, it needed to introduce fresh ideas and sustainable thinking.”
Scout, their “soft, adaptable and forgiving” pioneer yarn, is sourced from the Eden Valley Farm in Dumbleyung, Western Australia – a family property where Ross and Terri Lloyd (and sheepdogs Jeff and Dot) tend a merry brood of Merinos. The farm is certified Demeter Biodynamic, using a system Megan says supports and develops world-class ecological and sustainable production of food and natural fibres.
“As well as raising sheep, Ross and Terri also grow grain crops which they process into grain flour and stockfeeds,” she explains. And the Lloyds see personally to their herd. “They feel that avoiding outside contractors for stock handling benefits the sheep’s wellbeing and enables them to treat each animal as an individual.”
No small feat, in a flock of 4,500. From here, Scout is minimally processed to organic standards in New Zealand, before being bundled up and sent out from Megan and Robert’s own 20-acre bushy farm block, near Daylesford.
“Neither of us have done anything like this before, but we do both have incredibly varied work and play backgrounds. So we took what we knew, learnt what we needed to and dived in. Wool Days took three years of solid work by the two of us to build.”
And it wasn’t a cushy ride. “We’ve entered an industry that can be incredibly secretive and set in its ways,” says Megan, who’s heard enough ‘no’s’ to last a few lifetimes. “In the beginning, I asked so many questions and everywhere I turned people told me not to bother, that it’s impossible, you’ll lose all your money and all your time and get nowhere. But I truly believe in what we’re trying to build. So we stopped asking questions, shut everyone out and started at the very beginning. We worked the problems and optimised the solutions.”
They started by designing a business model, asking, “If there were no restrictions and no expectations, how would our business run?” and spent a year and a half answering this question. “From here, it was just filling in the detail,” says Megan, laughing at how simple that sounds in retrospect. “It was – and still is – a tremendous amount of work, and when you’re building something bold and beautiful there is no getting around doing the work.”
According to Megan there’s wool, and there’s good wool, with the stock-standard former usually muddled together from fleeces far and wide, and shipped to China for processing.
“I find it incredibly sad and nonsensical that something so wonderfully simple to produce and process has so many miles added to it for the sake of saving a few dollars,” she says, adding that processing generally involves cleaning the wool with harsh chemicals before coating and dying it with plastics. “I would say that it should no longer be classified as wool.”
But doing things the Wool Days way doesn’t come cheap. “From packaging to shipping, storage to power use, suppliers to collaborators, no detail is too small to consider and optimise [for sustainability]. As this is not the norm, we often have to seek unique solutions. And unique solutions can be very costly. But we started this business knowing that, and decided to approach it by championing regenerative business practices.”
Such as their nifty solution to single-use packaging. “As we are an online retailer, the problem of sending waste to our customers really bothered us,” says Megan, having long wondered, “does the world produce more packaging than products? So we designed and implemented a pilot program which tackles that question head on.”
Made from local organic canvas and beeswax, their Loop bags are designed to be posted (or looped) back to Wool Days, free of charge, for reuse. “Those who have been involved in the program so far have absolutely loved the experience, and have had some really valuable feedback which we use to further develop the system.”
Mere months since its April launch, Megan is reeling in Wool Days’ success. “It’s exciting and exhausting and it looks like we might be able to bring our five-year plan and fit it into our 12-month plan,” she says, which goes to show that even a product as old as time can see a stylish resurgence.
“Delicious food, luscious cloth and good company are also things we have been enjoying for a very, very long time, and continue to do so with great enthusiasm in an increasingly fast-paced world,” she says. “We are tactile creatures – we find pleasure in things that feel good, things that make us feel good and, more and more so recently, things that also do good in the world.” We’re feeling that.