Ultrafine merino wool has always been seen as special but over the past decade the value of merino has been on a downward spiral, making it uncommercial.
The Attard family at Gostwyck in New South Wales, Australia, are challenging this by launching their own ultrafine Merino collection for expectant mums, babies and children.
Exhibiting for the first time at Playtime Paris is henry and grace® which pushes into a new frontier for an infamously itchy fibre by presenting it as a product for the most sensitive of skins. Behind that accomplishment are “technical feats more sophisticated than anything to be seen on the swing tags of high-tech synthetic ‘fleece’” Philip Attard believes.
"Nature developed wool and its properties, but in the past few decades it's been people, particularly in Australia, who have used genetics and technology to rebuild that fibre for the 21st century", he said.
"For the henry and grace® brand, we're only using our own wool of 15.5 micron and below, which means that it is likely that everyone will find our garments and blankets comfortable next to their skin, even in higher temperatures. On top of that natural selection, and in shed testing, we're using the new Wool Comfort Meter to ensure that our fabrics are guaranteed to be comfortable for even the most sensitive of skins - which for us, means babies."
henry and grace® believe is the marriage of nature and science that will help them pitch for a share of the babywear and maternity market. Although an already over-saturated space, the Attards believe their USP is a natural fibre product that combines technical excellence in areas where it counts – total comfort , softness, thermal properties, moisture management and flame resistance - with ethical production and provenance. henry and grace® is the first brand in the world to use machine washable, ultrafine Merino wool to produce the finest, softest and most luxurious garments for mothers and babies.
henry and grace® ultrafine wool is selected from their own Merino flock running on historic "Gostwyck", the Uralla farm taken up in 1834 by Henry and grace® Dangar, direct ancestors of Alison Attard. They farmed Merino sheep from the beginning, and introduced 28 Saxon rams imported from Germany in 1854.
The flock has always been undergoing genetic improvement and over the past couple of decades, Alison and Philip undertook an intensive breeding program to move the flock's average fibre diameter from medium down to ultrafine. To his frustration (and he's not alone), the intrinsic qualities of ultrafine wool have not been recognised by fibre market prices.
"There has been a failure to educate consumers," he said. "Ultrafine Merino has all the technical properties that has made wool the gold standard fibre for outdoor wear for centuries, but our use of technology has also made it something entirely new, able to be worn next to the skin with the reliable softness of cotton."
"Gostwyck Ultrafine Merino", is shorn from the family's own non-mulesed, rotationally-grazed flock, with its 180 years history of one family and one farm. Using only trusted processing partners, the provenance is preserved and the fibre qualities in the garment deliver the softness and comfort that this part of the market demands.
Now that the brand's website has gone live, the challenge is to persuade buyers of maternity and babywear, markets already saturated with promises, to view wool in a new light. henry and grace® will be showcasing their both their maternity and children’s clothing for both boys and girls and babies featuring t-shirts, hoodies, jackets, leggings, hats and blankets.
"We just need people to pick up our garments and try them," Philip said. "Once they have personally experienced the feel of these garments, which don't conform at all to traditional ideas about wool, we're confident that they will love them, and if they love and appreciate them, they will come back."
Visit Henry and grace® at Playtime Berlin on January 23-24! Until then, follow the brand on Instagram @henry_and_grace