Since basically forever, a lot of our winter Wildlings have been equipped with a cozy lining made from virgin wool. We source this pure new wool from our partner company Nordwolle, which was founded by Marco Scheel on his home island of Ruegen. Marco's business not only protects rare breeds of sheep, they also provide support for landscape conservation projects. This blog article reveals exactly how they do that. We wanted to find out a bit more about our favorite winter material and so, armed with a camera and loads of questions, we met up with Marco.
What did you do before you started with Nordwolle?
Before Nordwolle I studied industrial engineering with a specialization in energy technology. The sustainable approach that I now pursue with my company is something that’s practically part of my DNA. I grew up in the countryside on the island of Ruegen, where my grandmother instilled in me a sort of primal, fundamental trust in natural processes from an early age. There are plenty of solutions and answers to be found in nature and its lifeforms – even today.
How did you decide to establish Nordwolle and what motivated you to do so?
One of my main hobbies is windsurfing, and there is one particular situation that I still remember very clearly: My friends and I had just come out of the water and were standing on the beach. They were all wearing that kind of trendy, signature surfer apparel and at that moment I was thinking, “What I’d like to have right now is a super warm sweater, but one that wouldn’t make these guys just write me off as some kind of tree-hugging environmentalist, and one that is made in Germany – and made from wool.”
At that time I already knew of a friend who had Pomeranian Coarsewool sheep. He had to dispose of their wool every year because the clothing industry had no use for it. I found that situation so unpleasant that I wanted to do something about it – and then I just decided to give it a try.
It did take some time before I found someone who could envisage turning this wool into clothing, however. Back then there was still a very deep-rooted stigma that German wool was unsuitable for clothing. Even today, the preferred wool for clothing tends to be the more refined Merino wool.
It all began with them: Pomeranian Coarsewool sheep (Image: Wildling Shoes/Sarah Pabst)
What makes Nordwolle different from conventional wool?
The wool from our sheep is a so-called mixed wool or tippy lock. In other words, it is composed of both fine fibers and coarse, hollow fibers called “guard hairs.” While the fine hairs soak up water faster, the guard hairs channel it away. Together with the water-repellent wool grease, they help the sheep to stay warm and dry despite the nasty weather that prevails in northern Germany.
The wool retains this very same property when we process it into clothing or shoes. As a result, it is much better suited for the cold, wet season in our region than Merino wool, which is composed only of fine fibers and is better suited to warmer climates. Our company has been guided by this principle.
Can you give us an outline of the path wool takes from the sheep to the finished product – in our case for instance, the Wildling lining?
First of all, of course, the sheep are shorn. The wool is then washed and the fibers are parallelized, that is, they are all combed in the same direction. That’s an important step to ensure that the guard hairs are well integrated with the other fibers. The wool is then spun into a yarn, which in turn is woven into a cloth. The cloth then undergoes a fulling process, which means it is abraded and treated with heat, causing it to shrink in length and width and become denser. To finish, the fabric is then napped in order to make it comfortable to wear on the feet. This draws the finer fibers to the surface and lends the cloth a fleecy finish and somewhat more volume. Then the wool is sent to Portugal, where it is processed into a shoe.
Freshly shorn wool awaits further processing (Image: Wildling Shoes/Sarah Pabst)
How did you actually come across Wildling?
At the time I founded the company, we went to trade fairs practically every weekend. One of them was the Heldenmarkt Consumer Fair and our stand was right next to the Wildling stand with Anna and her mother Barbara. We started talking and I can’t remember which one of us it was, but we hit upon the idea that our wool would actually be the perfect choice for Wildlings.
What are you working on with Wildling right now?
Part of our philosophy at Nordwolle is that we prefer not to dye. But now, Sabine from Wildling’s product team has approached me and requested a completely black shoe made of wool. Without dyeing, that’s no easy feat because there are no sheep in Germany that are uniformly black. In fact, I recently went to England and found a Nordic mixed wool breed there, which is related to the Pomeranian Coarsewool sheep and has relatively black wool. Now we just need to keep working on this.
Thank you, dear Marco, for the fantastic interview. We are very excited to explore all the other projects we'll be working on together.
Anna, Ran and the Wildlings
Cover image: Wildling Shoes/Sarah Pabst