January 10, 2018 From sheep to shop
With over 150 years’ experience manufacturing wool clothing, Devold of Norway views wool sourcing as a key to quality. In 2016, the company decided to begin buying merino wool direct from selected sheep farms – and to pay them a visit.
The commercial breakthrough for Devold of Norway’s wool clothing came many years ago. By 1866, thirteen years after the company had been founded in Ålesund on the west coast of Norway, the company developed a knitted woolen fisherman sweater called “Blaatrøia.” It became a huge success aboard the fishing boats on the windy North Sea.
Different models of the “Blaatrøia” in a slightly modernized form are still available in today’s assortment, and they are still made of wool from Norwegian sheep. But from previously having been the dominant manufacturer of woolen garments in Norway, the company has rapidly advanced on the international market in recent years. In 2015 and 2016, sales increased by 50%.
The growth is placing new demands on the company. “Devold’s wool clothing will always uphold the very highest quality,” says company CEO Cathrine Stange.
“That has been our philosophy ever since the company was founded in 1853. That’s why it’s important for us to have full control over the entire value chain, from the wool to the finished product.”
Get to know the farmers
Wool sourcing is therefore a central part of the company’s quality and sustainability work. The coarse Norwegian wool is still used in parts of the collection. Merino wool – which makes up the largest portion – is purchased from Australia and New Zealand. It is guaranteed to be mulesing-free and high-quality, but in the spring of 2016, Cathrine Stange and her employees wanted to go even further back in the value chain. The company decided to directly contact a number of select sheep farmers instead of just buying wool via auctions.
“We wanted to get to know them properly in order to know that they shared our values. Some of my colleagues and I drove around to the individual farmers one by one. A lot of miles were traveled on country roads around Australia, Tasmania, and New Zealand,” says Cathrine Stange with a smile, adding:
“We got a great insight into how they worked with sheep farming. Often, they were family farms that had been run for generations. They appeared to have a fantastic passion for both quality and durability.”
More trips followed, and the work led to Devold’s current three-year contract with thirteen select sheep farms in Australia and six in New Zealand.
For the following steps in the value chain of the wool – washing, dyeing, carding, and spinning – Devold uses established companies such as Schneider in Italy and Schöller in Austria.
“These companies have full control over their production, which takes place in European plants.”
The last manufacturing step is Devold’s own factory in Lithuania, where 300 employees work.
“When a seamstress is finished with a garment, we know that we have control of the quality and our environmental impact all the way back to the sheep farms. This means that our customers also get to know what’s going on – which we know they are asking for more and more.”
A small “From Sheep to Shop” label telling which farm the wool comes from is attached to the garment. Approximately 25% of the collection sold during the fall/winter 2017/2018 has wool from these farms.
“The portion will be increased as soon as new farms are contacted. But we are taking things step by step in order to maintain control,” says Cathrine Stange.
From sheep to shop and out into the wilderness.
5 freedoms of animal welfare
The farms in Devold’s “Sheep to Shop” project need to follow strict animal husbandry requirements.
1. Freedom from hunger or thirst through accessible fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigor.
2. Freedom from discomfort by providing an appropriate environment, including shelter and a comfortable resting area.
3. Freedom from pain, injury, or disease through prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment.
4. Freedom to express normal behavior by providing sufficient space, proper facilities, and company from the animal’s own species.
5. Freedom from fear and distress by ensuring conditions and treatment that prevent mental suffering.
Devold at ISPO: Hall A2 112