Wool new luxury brand centrepiece

Tony Leggett

Wool’s extraordinary qualities will underpin a new brand that launched last month, to promote a range of luxury products made from New Zealand fibre, for affluent consumers.

Some of NZ’s leading architects and interior designers got a sneak peak last month at the official Hushaberry Heritage brand and the range of products on the eve of the NZ Design Awards in Auckland.

Wool carpets and rugs, wall art, drapery and furniture featuring a very wide range of colours and individual designs form the product range of this new brand.

Wool’s story of naturalness, sustainability, fire retardancy and sensory appeal are the key pillars in Hushaberry Heritage brand alongside a heavy dose of design flair and colour.

Hushaberry Heritage designer Amie Nilsson and business developer husband James have already built a highly successful global brand for their Merino Kids range.

They could see huge potential to launch a range of luxury furnishings all made from, or covered in, NZ wool.

Amie said wool couldn’t be traded as a commodity anymore.

“We need to create a brand that farmers can be excited about because there are plenty of consumers out there in the world that just love wool and want it in their homes and businesses.”

‘We should be working with insurance companies and asking them to provide a discount on premium because fire won’t spread with a wool carpet …’

The concept for Hushaberry grew out of discussions the Nilssons had with wool growers, wool industry executives, architects and interior designers they knew.

But it wasn’t till they met with CP Wool chief executive officer, Colin McKenzie, and Carrfields managing director Craig Carr that a plan was formed to launch and grow a new luxury wool brand.

Simon Averill of CP Wool with James and Aimee Nilsson of Hushaberry Heritage. Picture: Brad Hanson

Hushaberry is owned equally by the Nilssons and CP Wool in a 50-50 joint venture company. CP Wool provides the channel for the wool sourced from its 3500 growers and will contribute to the manufacturing of some of the yarn, through its NZ Yarns subsidiary in Christchurch.

“There is a huge opportunity for NZ to lead the way on a global scale with wool. The idea is to start in NZ and Australia, prove the brand first and then take it offshore,” Amie said.

The Nilssons developed a taster range of products in time for this year’s National Fieldays at Mystery Creek. James’ family has a farm at Te Awanga just south of Napier and said the response from farmers at the Fieldays was no surprise.

“So many visitors to the Carrfields site were just blown away by what we had done with the colours and designs using New Zealand fine, mid-micron and coarse wools,” he said.

The Nilssons were surprised by the number of farmers who admitted they had synthetic carpets in their own homes. Several didn’t choose wool because of the sales pitch from retailers promoting claims that synthetic carpets are cheaper, last longer than wool and don’t fade or stain.

“They were farmers who understood how natural, sustainable and how fire-retardant wool is in carpet, furnishings or bedding” Amie said.

“We should be working with insurance companies and asking them to provide a discount on premium because fire won’t spread with a wool carpet and there’s less risk of chemical inhalation being harmful to humans too.”

A recent study showed 80% of carpets in NZ homes were made from synthetic fibre rather than wool.

Next step after the launch last month for the Nilssons is to talk with more interior designers and architects, to build partnerships with influencers, especially those who want to create change in demand for their range from the luxury end of the market.

“We maybe need to think how to deal with that price barrier for wool carpets. We’re happy that it’s premium product, but let’s find ways to make it more available to lower-budget consumers,” she said.

Once more established, the Nilssons believe there is scope for online sales alongside the direct-to-retail channel they are developing, in conjunction with logistics partner CP Wool.

They also understand the risk of over-hyping their plans without first proving their model is viable.

“If we don’t create a brand to take offshore, we don’t have control of our future.”

She says if volume can be created so can extra value for growers who need to have a tangible benefit to get their buy-in.

The Nilssons believe there’s a huge opportunity emerging to tap into the rise of consumer preference for natural, sustainable products, that offer health benefits too.

“We see wool as an old product but with clever design and almost unlimited colour options now, it’s not boring and dowdy anymore,” Amie said.

She said their expectation was that the brand would spread by word of mouth and strategic promotional activities.

“When people feel good about something, they talk about it and it becomes a bit of a cult following.”

She said they wanted farmers to feel good about it too, and want to be involved.

Her experiences with setting up the brand were similar to Merino Kids.

“A lot of people told me you couldn’t do it, and this feels like it again now with Hushaberry.”

Value not volume focus

Hushaberry Heritage is the second significant initiative from 50% owner CP Wool in the past 18 months.

It follows CP Wool’s agreement to supply yarn made from New Zealand wool to United States company, Carlyle Wide Plank Floors, for high-end carpets and rugs in May last year.

CP Wool chief executive Colin McKenzie, who joined the company in July 2017, said the new brand was also a significant shift in thinking for the wool sector.

“It’s a value-add strategy, not a volume strategy. That’s important for everyone to understand,” he said.

“This is an initiative aimed at stepping off the commodity cycle with NZ wool. We can’t remain at the mercy of commodity markets and survive,” McKenzie said.

He expected CP Wool’s 3500 growers across NZ to be supportive but accepted it would take time and sustained price improvements to gain their full backing.

McKenzie says it will require significant investment to grow it as a consumer brand and develop markets for the products, but demand has to be created from top end, affluent consumers who understand the qualities of wool and are prepared to pay to have it in their homes, hotels or lodges.

The intention is to “leap-frog” traditional supply chains and market these products in the Hushaberry range direct to consumers or those architects and interior designers who make the recommendations to business owners.

McKenzie said the wool industry in NZ was littered with failures.

A key difference with this initiative is it will disrupt the structure of traditional supply chains and compress them, so the luxury range of products is supplied as directly as possible to the consumer, eliminating margin loss.

Another significant difference is the intention to target the top end of consumers who can afford to pay a premium for interior textiles, bedding, drapery, wall art and furniture made from NZ wool.

“These are beautifully designed products with huge colour choices available. They are the complete package.”

McKenzie said CP wool was keen to break out of the traditional broker mould. “We want to make a difference and we genuinely believe this initiative has the ability in five years to be a global brand.”

However, he fully supports the intention to establish the brand initially just in NZ and Australia before going further afield. The US is an obvious next market for the brand because of the relationships already established with Carlisle Wide Plank Floors which is manufacturing the rugs and carpets for the Hushaberry range.

CP Wool said it was too early to speculate what the likely contract pricing would be for wool supplied to the new brand or volumes required.

Wide product range

Most consumers think of carpet, rugs or clothing when asked what wool is made into. But the Hushaberry range will cover much more, across the spectrum of wool diameter from fine to coarse.

The range will include carpet and rugs in almost any colour or pattern, but there are plans for colourful wall art, drapes, throws, panels for room dividers in offices, and furniture covered in wool.

Costs are still being worked through but there are plans to offer an entry-level range and a high-end segment to appeal to the luxury lodges and boutique hotels around the world.

Custom-made rugs will be more expensive. It will also be possible for farmers to have some of their own wool made into a carpet or rug to their own design.