Wednesday, 08 June 2016 14:55

A woolly resting place

Written by  Nigel Malthus
Polly McGuckin is serious about promoting NZ wool – her range of products includes woollen caskets containing around three fleeces of New Zealand wool. Polly McGuckin is serious about promoting NZ wool – her range of products includes woollen caskets containing around three fleeces of New Zealand wool.

"Oh, you'd be warm," grinned one not-so-young visitor to the recent Golden Fleece Exhibition at Oxford, as he viewed a display of a couple of woollen funeral caskets.

While it is easy to be flippant about the idea of being buried in a cosy woollen container, importer Polly McGuckin is serious about the business of selling New Zealand wool products.

She and her husband Ross McGuckin operate the family business Yaldhurst Wools, founded by her father 28 years ago on the western outskirts of Christchurch.

Ross does the wool buying, sourcing fleece from most of the South Island and exporting to the world. Polly, meanwhile, has developed a close relationship with the long-established West Yorkshire mill of AW Hainsworth & Sons, which manufactures a range of products including Natural Legacy coffins, John Atkinson wool blankets, and furnishings such as wool-filled wool cushions and pet pillows. All use 100% NZ wool.

"I'm asked all the time why they're not made here in NZ," she says. "But the bigger picture is, if we relied on our own little industry here to sell wool, there would be no woollen industry to support the farmer. And that mill has supported our woollen industry for years."

Each coffin, as the manufacturers call them – 'casket' is the preferred term in NZ, says McGuckin – contains the equivalent of three fleeces. There is also some structural cardboard, natural jute reinforcing and organic cotton lining.

Regulations also mandate a waterproof undersheet, and that too is biodegradable.

McGuckin says a lot of effort has also gone into making the caskets environmentally friendly for Eco-burials, with low emissions when used for cremation. For that there is also a matching woollen urn available for ashes, in the same colours as the caskets.

Her line includes a Christchurch-made range of heavy wool jerseys.

McGuckin says woollen blankets are enjoying a comeback against the ubiquitous duvet, especially in high-end hotels and lodges.

"We're trying to promote wool [for uses besides apparel]. There are other avenues for wool that people are thinking about."

A recent addition to her range is the distinctively striped Magdalene De Lancey throw, also made from 100% NZ wool. Hainsworth, which made British army uniforms during the Napoleonic Wars, introduced the item to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. Echoing the colours of British uniforms of the time, it is named after Lady De Lancey, the recent bride of a British officer, who rushed to his side as he lay dying of wounds and whose memoir of the events later became a popular book.

McGuckin says the woollen caskets are available through funeral directors. She is unwilling to reveal sales figures, but says she has recently received her fifth shipment. Compared with traditional caskets they are priced mid-range, she says.

Funeral directors have told her of positive feedback from families when woollen caskets have been used. Family members who may be reluctant to approach a traditional casket often walk up to caress it.

For the rest of her range, McGuckin is direct-marketing online, through social media and her website www.exquisiteblankets.co.nz

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