Counting sheep

Many of our textiles are made using natural wool. Therefore the production of this important raw material plays a crucial role in our culture of sustainability.

Wool is an amazing product: natural, renewable, durable, and recyclable. At Kvadrat we make full use of all its qualities. But our interest in this raw material begins a long time before it is transformed into textile. It starts with the wool supplier, in this case a sheep farmer in Southern Australia or New Zealand, and then continues throughout the farming and production processes that follow.

Sheep farming is an economically and culturally important part of life in Australia and New Zealand. A dry climate and infertile soil might be problematic for many kinds of agriculture, but sheep have proven to thrive in these areas and so a culture based around this type of farming developed here in the 19th century and has been sustained ever since by the exporting of wool to companies like ours. Today, there are 6 sheep for every human in Australia and over 141,4000 people are employed in the agriculture and forestry industries of New Zealand. We source our wool from these countries for two reasons: Firstly, the farms here are dedicated to sustainable farming and have developed an efficient means of production that make use of traditional techniques. Secondly, they produce the most consistently high quality wool. 

The wool we use for our upholstery textiles comes from cross breed sheep (breeds such as Merino, Border Leicester and Dorset) reared first for both their meat and, secondly, their wool. The wool quality that we are looking for is durable and resilient, soft but not too soft. The sheep raised on these farms are tough and reliable; their wool is coarse and just the right fibre length and thickness to suit our needs.

The sheep are sheared once a year and the process of rounding up the animals, bringing them into the farms and removing their fleeces – which at this point will be around 4 kilos in weight – is a labour intensive and familiar ritual for the rural sheep farming communities. The people here have reared and sheared sheep in the same way for generations: they still use sheep dogs (kelpies) to move their flocks and skilled shearers will travel from farm to farm to perform their much sought after and difficult work. The shearing process can take up to a week, depending on the number of sheep, at the end of it is a refreshed flock of animals, a tired workforce, and the precious harvest ready to be graded.

Climate and landscape play a substantial role in the quality of the end product. The ideal amount of rain and sun produces the perfect grazing conditions for the sheep that, in turn, oblige us with the very best quality of wool: fibres that are stronger, thicker, and longer. This is an industry reliant on its natural landscape: The consistency of the environment in Australia and New Zealand are what have allowed sheep farming to flourish there and for generational skills to be so carefully honed and past down.

After being graded - a process that determines each fleece’s worth depending on its fiber diameter, its crimp, yield, colour, and strength - the fleeces are baled and then sold at a local wool auction. Each bale is barcoded. This is important as it allows for the wool to always be traced back to its farm of origin in the supply chain.

Lastly, the wool is cleaned in a ‘scouring process’ before being shipped. As the dust and the dirt of the farm is removed, this most miraculous of raw materials sheds its roughness and takes a step closer to becoming a textile product we all recognise: yarn.

Our journey with wool doesn't end here. We invest a huge amount of effort in our work with mills and manufacturers. It is here that the raw material becomes a product. Read about Wooltex, a Yorkshire mill steeped in tradition, next.
* All Kvadrat’s wool is sourced in Australia and New Zealand except the wool used for our Molly textile that comes from Norway.
Read about our main supplier of woollen textiles, Wooltex