Surrounded by sea and steep hills, the beautiful Le Bons Bay on the Banks Peninsula is home to enterprising Kiwi couple Carl and Tori Uren and their family of four school-aged children.
It’s also home to a thriving merino clothing business, recently re-branded as True Fleece. Carl Uren is a fourth-generation farmer.
He says that despite not holding tertiary qualifications it was inevitable he was going to be a farmer. He and Tori have taken calculated risks to successfully build up their farming business.
Their 385ha mixed sheep and beef farm was “built from scratch” over ten years and with an additional 1700ha leased now comprises 14,000 stock units. They leased land so they could build up their stock and manage cashflow, while servicing debt on their own block.
What they hadn’t anticipated was the response to their “Merino Wool for School” enterprise which developed “almost unintentionally” after Tori’s mother began making merino wool jerseys for the kids to wear to school five years ago.
The idea that Kiwi kids should be wearing NZ wool to school – especially in the south island – snowballed and became a fast-growing business that initially supplemented the farming family’s income but has now become a main income-stream.
Growing marketing opportunities through word of mouth and now internet sales – combined with accessibility of couriers coming to the farm gate – permitted them to build the business from home, despite their relatively remote location some hour’s drive from Christchurch.
While they don’t farm merinos themselves, (the Banks Peninsula climate isn’t suitable), the Urens source the best merino wool through PGG Wrightson Wool.
“They along with us, see the value of wearing merino wool clothing which ticks all the boxes from being amazingly warm and comfortable … natural and sustainable.”
The wool is sent to Thailand to be manufactured by Global Merino into merino fabric, which is the only part of the process that is done offshore – there being no manufacturers in New Zealand.
“The merino wool we use in our clothing is natural, renewable and 100% biodegradable meaning it is harmless to the environment. As our business grows it is really important to us that we maintain our goal of only using wool that is traceable back to the New Zealand merino grower.”
“Our garments are cut and sewn in Christchurch.
This is a really important part to our story as not only are we supporting the Kiwi economy but it completes the cycle of 100% homegrown and sewn merino wool clothing.”
“Merino Wool for School” is now just a part of the clothing business. Rebranded two months ago as True Fleece, and with the launch of a new website, the products are now available online.
“We are still providing homegrown and sewn merino garments for school children, but have expanded our range to include clothing for adults including merino base layers, hoodies, beanies and adult sized merino 1/4 zip jerseys.”
Custom embroidered logos give branding options for sports clubs and businesses and are especially favoured by rugby and golf clubs, while PGG Wrightson wool brokers now sport the stylish jerseys as part of their uniform. The True Fleece merino clothing is functional, durable, high quality and good value for money, says Uren.
“We’re trying to stay away from high fashion, and stick to garments that are good quality, last well, and are not going to change every year.”
“There’s a huge opportunity for businesses like ours that are sustainable, and environmentally friendly,” he says.
While there is potential for export, the Urens are for now – figuratively speaking – sticking to their knitting. There is still untapped potential onshore. “It’s a work in progress,” says Uren. “We’ve got a long list of goals that we need to tick off over the next 12 to 18 months.”
Making the business financially sustainable means sticking with the base range that works, and keeping costs down as much as possible.
Design is done as much as possible “in-house,” individual on-line sales are dispatched from home, and what better way to get rest of the family, aged five to 11 years involved, than as product testers? True Fleece is a truly home-grown business. See truefleece.co.nz for more information.
This article was brought to you in association with the following businesses…
- Scaife Scanning Limited
- Hemingford Ltd
- Banks Peninsula Transport