It’s no secret that wool is having a bit of a moment in the entrepreneurial spotlight right now. Allbirds was recently valued at NZ$2 billion, while Tauranga-based surfboard shaper and tinkerer Paul Barron has partnered with Firewire surfboards and New Zealand merino to make a surfboard from wool.
Now, another New Zealand duo, Auckland-based Luke Morreau and Tauranga-based Blythe Rees-Jones, are getting in on the action with their company Woolkin, which makes wool products for little ones that are usually made from plastics.
The co-founders are designers by trade – Rees-Jones runs Virtuo, a strategic innovation company and previously worked in industrial design, spending time tinkering in Italian wool mills developing a deep understanding of wool and its natural benefits, while Morreau is founding partner and design director for brand agency Tricky and previously was a senior designer at Icebreaker.
They were looking for an idea to apply their skillsets to and they found it once they started having families of their own. Morreau says they were shocked at how much unnecessary synthetic – and in some cases, harmful – products children come into touch with.
“We wanted to develop products that were more in line with our own design, environmental and ethical values and coming from a country with a rich wool story and our own material knowledge of it sparked the beginnings of Woolkin,” he says.
Currently, the Woolkin brand makes the award-winning Sleepnest, a woollen baby carrier and bed, as well as range of toys such as fire trucks, tractors and toy planes that would usually be made from plastic out of its own developed and exclusively-owned material, Naturesclip.
This material is exclusively owned by Woolkin and is made from 100 percent wool fibre, which can be shaped, coloured and moulded into almost any soft or rigid form.
“This material flexibility means we can push the boundaries of traditionally what’s been possible with wool, to now create beautiful, natural products that are very difficult to replicate out of textiles, timber, plastics and synthetics,” Morreau says.
Sleepnest was first released a few years ago and sold out over a weekend, while the toys are more recent additions to the range.
“Customers were simply amazed our products were made from wool,” he says. “I think once you touch and feel them, you realise the value in beautifully crafted natural materials. Since then we have had some lovely feedback from customers and a steady flow of orders with almost zero marketing, so we certainly need to shift that into gear.”
Morreau says the biggest challenges the business has faced along the way have been time and money.
“A huge amount of R&D has gone into truly understanding the materials we are dealing with, and as we step into a more commercial retail space, the importance and relevance of brand and marketing,” he says. “Time and money play a big part in this – especially when you are redefining a category.”
While all of its sales have been made through its website, Woolkin is starting to find its commercial footing. Morreau says the company is about to start conversations with retailers, and has the right contacts, capital and positioning to quickly get it scale.
“We source New Zealand wool though our manufacturing partners in Germany. I think with volume, we will have the opportunity to develop direct relationships with growers. It’s certainly something we would love to ingrain into the business and build long lasting relationships,” he says.
“Ultimately, we want to take Woolkin to the world and play a part in redefining just what’s possible with wool.
“We have plans to set up distribution abroad and looking for the right people to help us make this happen. On a more personal and local note we’d love our products to become the new buzzy bee for all New Zealand kids. Support us!”
Check out Woolkin’s website here.