South African woollen outdoor apparel
by Tony Lourens
For many years now South Africans (and the rest of the outdoor world) have been impressed by the many excellent woollen products that have come onto the market. And I am seeing more and more climbers and hikers using these products and really singing the praises.
But unbeknown to many, CORE Merino, a proudly South African brand, owned by BKB, one of the country’s leading authorities on agriculture for the last 100 years and one of the captains in the wool and mohair industry, has been slowly growing its market share of wool-based outdoor apparel in South Africa. The company has a range of impressive products in its stable. But before we talk about the products, let me tell you a bit about the company and the person behind the brand.
Monica Ebert, a young, talented and surprisingly unassuming woman, originally from Kansas in America, has been involved with CORE Merino for quite some time and has become the driving force behind the brand. When she got hold of me to test out some of their products, which to my shame, I had not heard of before, I was curious to find out more about the brand and its mission. So Monica and I spent a day at the crag climbing a few routes and chatted about CORE Merino.
Tony: Where did you study and what degree or qualifications do you have?
Monica: I studied at Kansas State University and Angelo State University. I have a Bachelor’s degree in Fashion Design and Marketing from Kansas State University and a Master’s degree in Animal Science from Angelo State University. However my Master’s thesis focused on the wool supply chain from the raw wool fibre all the way through to the end garment.
T: How did you get involved with CORE Merino?
M: I came across CORE Merino on my first trip to South Africa in 2014. I was here for an international wool conference. I was still working on my Master’s degree at that stage, but by attending this conference and several others elsewhere in the world thereafter, I started to get to know many of the key people in the South African wool industry, including many of my present colleagues at BKB. Given my background, I was then asked by BKB to do some research and strategising for the CORE Merino brand, which brought me back to South Africa. Not long after that strategy work, I was asked to come on board full time to manage the brand.
T: What is the affiliation between CORE Merino and BKB?
M: CORE Merino is a brand owned by BKB, an agriculture company based in Port Elizabeth with a footprint throughout South Africa. BKB is the largest wool broker (marketer) in South Africa, so their business had traditionally been marketing wool prior to processing and every step afterwards wasn’t their concern. Now, with CORE Merino, we follow the wool through every step of the supply chain through to selling the finished garment. It gives BKB a unique connection through to the end consumer of the wool products and really helps with understanding the needs of the market, which can be filtered back through, to effect on-farm wool growing practices ensuring we have the right quality of wool for our products. Also, today’s consumers want to know where the products they are purchasing are coming from and we are able to do just that.
T: How long has CORE Merino been in operation and how long have you been with them?
M: The CORE Merino brand was started in 2012 and I joined the company full time in March 2018, so close on two years.
T: What is your role and job title at CORE Merino?
M: I am the International Brand Development Manager, however my role is all-encompassing. We are a very small team at the moment, so I do a bit of everything, including design and development of new garments, helping customers, and marketing the products and the brand at various active outdoor events throughout South Africa.
T: Do all the (your) designs originate in South Africa.
M: Yes, all the products are designed here in South Africa.
T: Where is the Merino wool spun into the fabric you use on your garments and explain the process thereafter.
M: All the wool used in our garments originates in South Africa. We do however require certain types of processing which are unfortunately not available in South Africa, so the wool is shipped to China for first stage processing, which is where the wool is washed, carded and then combed into what is called tops. Then it is spun into yarn in Taiwan and from there it is knit into fabric and cut and sewn into garments in Vietnam.
T: And lastly, what is your vision for the CORE Merino brand and your products?
M: The vision is to create a sustainable, long-lasting brand creating versatile gear for the active outdoors from South African wool and by doing so take the South African wool story to the world. We’re still a small brand finding our feet, but we are very focused on continual development to create the very best gear through environmentally friendly and sustainable supply chains.
Nuyarn Short Sleeve Crew
Essentially a T-shirt with a big difference – when you put this garment on, you don’t want to take it off! The fabric is so soft and light against your skin, it actually feels as though you are not wearing anything. The garment offers exceptional comfort and is a great and close fit (but super stretchy), making it ideal for all outdoor pursuits, whether worn as a single layer, or a base layer beneath a fleece or soft shell. I particularly like the mesh panels down each side of the shirt, which gives it extra ‘lightness’ and breathability.
Body – 85% Merino wool 15% Nylon
Panels – 83% Merino wool 17% Nylon
R1250 (long sleeve)
Raglan Zip Neck
This garment is definitely one of my favourites. A very soft and comfortable fit, but slightly thicker than the Nuyarn garments, which makes for an awesome insulating first layer on cool days on the hill – ideal for shady climbing. And if the temperature drops, or rain persists, it works perfectly as a base layer beneath a down jacket, soft shell, or a rain shell. Highly breathable, moisture wicking, and silky against the skin, this is a really versatile piece of kit, that should always find a place in your pack.
100% merino wool,
250 gsm single knit jersey fabric
Nuyarn Soft-Shell Jacket
Every hiker, climber, mountaineer, or general outdoor lover needs a soft-shell jacket. It is one of the essential pieces in your clothing arsenal. The softshell is your go to garment when the weather gets a bit disagreeable – the temperature drops a bit, the wind picks up, starts spitting with rain, sleet or snow. The first thing you haul out your pack is your trusty old soft-shell. That with a good base layer and you are set to take on the elements!
CORE Merino’s Nuyarn soft-shell is a well-designed piece of kit, that does the trick very nicely in times of chilly conditions, and together with the Raglan Zip Neck as a base layer makes for a very cosy set up indeed. The 100% polyester outer fabric makes it practically waterproof as well, and ensures good durability, while the 85% Merino wool lining, gives it a great feel, even when wearing it straight against the skin.
The garment also features two zipped hand pockets and a small zipped chest pocket for stashing any essentials and also has two big inside flaps to keep a map, or indeed a hip flask, etc. Light and soft, the garment folds and packs easily in your back pack, making it ideal for any outdoor activity. My only small gripe is that I found the sleeves just a little too short, but I was assured this would be rectified.
Outer – 100% Polyester,
Lining – 85% Merino wool 15% Nylon
These are only three products from their range. To see all their garments for men and women, and learn more about the CORE Merino brand visit www.coremerino.com
The Benefits of Merino wool
Warm and Cool
Merino wool is an active fibre that reacts to changes in body temperature. So it helps you stay warm when the weather is cold, and cool when the weather is hot.
Merino wool fibres are extremely fine, enabling them to bend far more than traditional, coarser wool fibres. This makes Merino wool feel soft and luxuriously gentle against your skin.
Natural elasticity helps Merino wool garments stretch with you, yet return to their original shape. So ideal to wear when exercising.
Merino wool fibres can absorb large quantities of moisture vapour, then move it away to evaporate into the air. So the garments are extremely breathable and less prone to clamminess.
Merino wool absorbs moisture vapour, which means less sweat on your body. The wool even absorbs the odour molecules from sweat, which are then only released upon washing. This gives you the freedom to wear these garments day after day on any adventure.
Because Merino wool can absorb moisture vapour, it tends not to create static electricity, helping it to drape loosley and be less likely to cling uncomfortably to your body.
As a natural fibre, evolved over millions of years to protect sheep against the elements, Merino wool absorbs UV radiation providing protection from the sun. This makes it a good choice for a wide range of outdoor activities.
Caring for your CORE Merino products
Wool garments are proven to require less washing than the other dominant apparel fibres, which often leads to a much longer garment life. The key is in taking advantage of wool’s natural odour-resistance, stain-resistance and ability to bounce back to its original shape, allowing you to wear your CORE garments more and wash them less. CORE Merino garments are designed in a way to make caring for them easy.
When you do need to wash your CORE garments, we suggest these steps:
• Turn garments inside out to prolong the item’s ‘new’ look and feel
• Close all zips
• Keep light and darks separate
• Use a wool detergent
• Warm (40°) or cool (30°) wash temperature
• Short gentle cycle or wool cycle, if available
• Do not use fabric softener or bleach
• Lie flat or line dry garments
• Low iron wool setting or 120°, if required
• To remove cigarette or food odours, lay wool garments flat on a bed or towel for an hour.
• Wool garments can be refreshed after unpacking or wearing by hanging them in a steamy bathroom. Moisture from the steam will remove wrinkles.
• To help your CORE garments keep their shape, they should be gently folded and stored in drawers.