It’s actually Melanie's job to interview people for the blog. People who are connected to Wildling in some way - as producers and manufacturers or as busy foxes who are otherwise invisible behind the scenes. But when Marco Scheel from Nordwolle calls her at the appointed time for his interview, he completely ignores Melanie's plan, immediately blurting out in his north-German dialect:
“So Melanie, you work for Wildling - what's it like working there? How many people are you now? Do you have children? How old are you?”
“Um, ok, 38.” “Oh you sound younger.” “And you, Marco, how old are you?” “29.” “Oh...”
So it was goodbye to Melanie's image of a grey-bearded shepherd caring for his flock during the day and running a small wool-processing business on the side...
Finally she gets to ask some questions:
“So Marco, how, at the age of 24 (Nordwolle has been around since 2013), did you get the idea to process wool and to turn it into a business? Had you at least been a shepherd at some point?”
“No, I studied mechanical engineering with a focus on energy technology. I wrote my master’s thesis for a company and realised that I didn’t seem to be a good employee. People who only get to say something because they're in a higher salary bracket than me... that wasn't my idea of good work.
Also, after windsurfing up here in the North I was often cold, and I wanted a really cosy woollen pullover that was produced in Germany from German wool. One that also looked cool! After my research I came to the conclusion that I’d have to make it myself. And that was the beginning of Nordwolle.
Wool as a throwaway product
Yeah, and it turned out that making it myself was not nearly as easy as I'd expected. German wool had pretty much become a throwaway product. That’s because the central and northern European sheep species seldom have the fine wool of a merino sheep. And for a long time fineness was one of the main criteria for wool that’s made into clothes - finer wool is less scratchy. On the other hand it’s less resistant to damp. In the rain we have here in Germany, merino sheep would soak up all the wetness and collapse under the weight. Our Pomeranian sheep, for example, are much better adapted to our weather. Another “disadvantage” of a Pomeranian sheep: the colouring. Cloth made from Pomeranian sheep’s wool is a lovely grey colour. But it’s difficult, or rather impossible, to dye it. So you can't use it to make purple scarves or green jumpers.
That's why the shepherds often threw wool away after shearing. There was zero demand.
Scheep as conservationists
But Pomeranian sheep also have another important function here in the North: They engage in countryside conservation! They're not particularly choosy about their food, also grazing habitats that have a low feed value and are therefore spurned by others.
So now we’ve got the wool, but for a jumper or other clothing you need to go further. The wool needs to be spun into yarn, which is then woven into cloth. At one time there were 184 cloth mills in Germany; now there’s only one left!
And now wool from Germany is a thing again. At Nordwolle we make it into yarn that we sell, but also into clothing, jackets and soon also into children’s clothes...
I’ve already talked about what motivates me. The shepherds are paid a fair price, the fantastic raw material wool is used sensibly, and thanks to the increased sheep population, more areas of the countryside are grazed. And I can wear the most beautiful woollen jumper on the market."
“What's the wildest thing you’ve ever done?”
"Well, I’ll leave your readers to decide whether this was wild. I did my civilian service in a nature reserve on the island of Fehmarn. I lived there in a construction trailer for nine months, making sure that the trespassing ban was adhered to. So not a single person entered the reserve. At the same time I counted birds. That was wild. Or wilderness.”
"What's your wish for a sustainable future?"
"More variety! In every respect. In our society we always seem to strive for perfection, marketability, uniformity. In people I find that boring and sad, but for flora and fauna it's fatal! In nature, it’s not the strongest that survives, but the system with the greatest variety. Which means we also have to take care of the rough diamonds - in Nordwolle’s case, the Pomeranian sheep. That's the only way ecosystems continue to exist."
"Dear Marco, thank you for this informative interview. Before we finish would you like to reveal what you get up to in your Wildlings?"
"Behind our house is a lovely forest area. In the summer I like to walk there with bare feet. In my Lupas I can more or less continue to do that in the winter!"
There is a documentary about Marco and Nordwolle:
Run Wild, Anna, Ran & Team Wildling