Wintry Wildling shoes and wool have been a dream team for years, and the same goes for the cooperation between Wildling Shoes and the Nordwolle company. Let’s talk good ideas, Pomeranian sheep and the multitalented character of wool.
Why wool is great
OK, here comes something of a love letter to wool that everyone who’s followed Wildling Shoes for a while has probably already read or heard – after all, wool truly is a multitalented material that’s perfect for a minimalist winter shoe.
It’s cozy and breathable, regulating the temperature and thereby keeping its wearer pleasantly warm without causing sweaty feet. Wool’s properties also ensure that it has an odor-neutral, antibacterial effect. As if that wasn’t enough, wool also has natural self-cleaning and water-resistant characteristics. Wool is elastic and antistatic, so it doesn’t build up an electrical charge. And although we wouldn’t recommend that anyone leap over a winter campfire, wool is highly flame-retardant. As such, wool can be used for a variety of purposes and it’s right at home in daily life.
It’s little wonder then that people have used wool for textiles for thousands of years (experts disagree on exactly how long, but it’s safe to say a very, very long time). Of course, the properties mentioned previously are always contingent upon how the wool is processed. The wool products from Wildling Shoes are not treated with toxic chemicals and they’re easy to care for. And right from the start, we’ve always procured our wool from the company, Nordwolle Rügen.
Wildling Shoes and Nordwolle
For years now, Nordwolle has been the key to why our winter models are so wonderfully warm and resource-friendly. There are several reasons why Wildling Shoes and Nordwolle make such a good team. First, as a prime example of regenerative enterprise, Nordwolle’s collaboration with small workshops means the company’s production can be traced all the way from obtaining the gray Pomeranian sheep’s wool to production of the yarn at Germany’s oldest textile manufacturing operation. (Find out more about our partnership of many years).
Like Wildling Shoes, Nordwolle was born from an ostensible obsession with introducing a product onto the market that we were missing from our daily lives, while avoiding the diversion of accustomed conventions. But who better to explain what’s behind Nordwolle than the company’s founder, Marco Scheel?
Photo: Sarah Pabst | Wildling Shoes
8 questions for Nordwolle wool expert Marco
Marco, how does a 24-year-old (Nordwolle has already been around since 2013) come up with the idea of processing wool as the basis for starting a company?
I’m an avid windsurfer, and I remember one particular situation where my friends and I had just gotten out of the water and were standing on the beach. They all had on typical stylish surf wear, and at that moment I wished I had a really warm pullover, but one that wouldn’t make me stick out like a sore thumb and look like a hippie in the group. Ideally it would be made in Germany from wool. After checking around, I finally realized if that’s what I wanted, I would have to make it myself. That was the birth of Nordwolle.
What steps followed after the idea?
I already had a friend who raised Pomeranian sheep. Every year he had to destroy their wool because it wasn’t being used for clothing manufacture. This situation upset me so much that I wanted to change it, so I just tried it out.
Getting started in the clothing industry – was it as simple as that?
No. It took quite a while to find someone who could imagine making clothing from this wool. The stigma of German wool being unsuitable for clothing was still deeply rooted at that time. Even now, the more delicate Merino wool is still used more commonly.
Why does German wool have this reputation?
German wool became practically a throwaway byproduct because few Central and Northern European sheep species produce wool as delicate as the Merino sheep. For a long time, this delicacy was a top criterion for wool used to create clothing because it’s less scratchy. But it’s also less water-resistant. In German rain conditions, Merino sheep would just soak up the moisture and collapse under the sheer weight. So that’s one example of how our Pomeranian sheep are much better adapted to our weather.
Another supposed drawback to Pomeranian sheep is their color. Fabric made from Pomeranian sheep’s wool produces a lovely shade of gray, but it’s very hard, if not impossible, to dye. So you can’t use it to make purple scarves or green sweaters. That’s why the shepherds often just threw the wool away after shearing. There was virtually zero demand.
But here up north, Pomeranian sheep have another important role: They’re landscape conservation specialists! They aren’t very picky about what’s on the menu, so they also graze landscapes with less nutritional value that other sheep varieties avoid.
Photo: Sarah Pabst | Wildling Shoes
How exactly does Nordwolle wool differ from conventional wool?
The wool from our sheep is known as a wool blend. This means it’s made up of delicate fibers together with coarser hollow fibers called guard hairs[AB3] . The delicate hairs absorb water more quickly, while the guard hairs repel it. So along with producing lanolin, which is water-repellent, the guard hairs also help keep the sheep warm and dry in northern Germany’s rainy weather conditions.
The wool retains this exact property when it’s processed into clothing or shoes. It is far better equipped for the cold rainy season in our region than Merino wool, which is made solely from delicate fibers and is more suitable for warmer areas. This realization is the foundation of our company.
So it’s perfect for Wildling shoes. Can you describe the process, starting with the sheep through to the finished product? For the Wildling shoes linings, for instance?
It all starts with shearing the sheep, of course. Then the wool is washed and the fibers are parallelized, which just means combing them in the same direction. This is important for making sure the guard hairs are mixed in well with the other fibers. The wool is then spun into yarn, which is then woven into fabric. This fabric then goes through the process of “fulling”, meaning it is scoured and heat treated, shrinking its length and width and making it denser. To makes sure it’s comfortable on the foot, it is napped in the final step. This involves pulling the more delicate fibers up to the surface, giving the fabric a fluffy feel and a little more volume. The wool is then sent off to Portugal where it is transformed into a shoe.
What’s your wish for a sustainable future?
More diversity in every regard! In our society, it seems like people are always striving for perfection, marketability, uniformity. If you apply that to flora and fauna, it wouldn’t just be boring and sad, it would be absolutely fatal! In nature, it’s not the strongest that survive, but rather the system with the greatest diversity. So we also have to cultivate nature’s “rough diamonds”, like Pomeranian sheep in Nordwolle’s case. This is the only way to maintain ecosystems.
Definitely! Final question: Do you remember how Wildling Shoes and Nordwolle came together?
When I started the company, we attended trade fairs practically every weekend. One was the Heldenmarkt fair, and our exhibition stand was right next to the one with Anna [founder of Wildling] and her mother, Barbara. We got to talking, and I can’t remember now which one of us it was, but at some point we came to the realization that our wool would actually be ideal for Wildling Shoes.
We agree! And we’re delighted about every new Wildling Shoes model that uses the popular Nordwolle wool.
Photo: Sandra Chiolo | Wildling Shoes
Care tips for wooly Wildlings
Wool has natural water-repellent properties, so additional waterproofing isn’t fundamentally necessary. If the water-repellent properties of your wool model shoes do begin to diminish however, we recommend Moisture Protection “Pearl” from our Tapir Shoe Care Kit.
We can also recommend using a lanolin spray to retreat the wool once its natural resistance starts to drop off over time.
Important: Wildling waterproofing spray is not suitable for wool, but you can use it on the microfiber edging and the outsole. You’ll get the best results by brushing it on evenly and then letting the shoe dry for 24 hours. Here’s a video on waterproofing.
You can find detailed info about the materials and appropriate care of your Wildlings in the product descriptions for each model. And for any further questions, our Customer Service team has the answers you’re looking for.