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Tuesday, 01 June 2021 15:55

Stuffing the good out of wool

Written by  David Anderson
Big Save Furniture managing director Tom McKimm. Big Save Furniture managing director Tom McKimm.

In a minor coup for the struggling strong wool sector, one of New Zealand's largest furniture manufactures and retailers, Big Save Furniture, has committed to using more strong wool in its products and pay growers a fair price. David Anderson asked managing director Tom McKimm about the move.

Why has Big Save decided to use more wool in its products?

Our product development team has been working on some exciting materials using with upcycled plastic from the ocean in a new selection of bedding in our Rest & Restore range. As we started growing the product development in upcycled plastics, we started researching other fibres. Wool became very apparent as a fantastic fibre to be using as a filler, liner and covering.

What was the motivation for the company’s move to using more wool?

Big Save wants to grow more into sustainable and biodegradable products. We realise that we have a huge impact on the environment with our products once they have had a great life with a New Zealander. We care about the next cycle of our sofas, beds and dining tables as they may go to landfills or be upcycled into something else. Wool has advantages with being both sustainable but also biodegradable, so if the sofa or bed ends its life in a landfill there is less negative long-term impact.

What kind of products is the company producing with wool components?

We have some exciting goals with our wool business. Currently we are making wool layers that go into both beds and sofas.

These wool layers are inserted into beds for comfort, fire retardancy and thermo insultation properties. In the pipeline, we have some exciting developments with wool. We are currently working on replacing polystyrene balls in our bean bags with wool knops. We are working on different wool material coverings, both in texture and colours, as sofa materials. We are investigating the replacement of fibre in fibreglass with wool fibre for making dining chairs, sofa legs etc.

How did you come up with the fair price value of $4.50/kg?

With our support office being based in Hawkes Bay, we know a lot of sheep and beef farmers. From looking at the historic prices of New Zealand strong wool and from talking to farmers about their break-even for shearing, we were able to set our $4.50 price. This price was set with the idea that the farmer can make good enough money to retain his sheep flock and not lose money. One of our goals from this project is that the $4.50 per kg price is a minimum price and if the market average goes above this, we know we are having some sort of positive impact.

How much wool (total kg) is the company currently using a year?

So far, for the past 12 months, Big Save Furniture has purchased 40 tonnes of strong wool from one exclusive farm.

Do you have a level or total you want to grow this to and over what timeframe?

At this stage, we only have one sofa supplier with three sofa ranges with our wool in it. Our wool beds are yet to hit the market so the growth in wool use inside of Big Save will be huge. Our goal is to have wool in most of our sofas, beds and other product ranges over the next couple of years. We have a number of offshore manufactures keen to use our wool layers in furniture manufacture to sell to other countries.

What was the reasoning behind the company's recent purchase of the four sheep and beef farms?

We believe in learning and being involved in any business unit from the ground up. There is no point in us telling farmers what to do or what we need if we are coming from an uneducated position. We believe with the right use of technology and the right mix of traditional farming methods the strong wool industry will prosper and wool will return to being a high yielding income stream for farms. The growth of our Big Rural Business, with the purchase of our own farms, shows that we are totally committed to what we are doing with NZ strong wool.

Will these farms remain as sheep and beef producers or is the company planning to change their production?

They will be enhanced sheep and beef farms, with a focus on NZ strong wool and our positive ecological footprint. Using some of the latest technological methods in farming – along with proven traditional methods we aim to create showcase farming practices.

Is the company seeing a greater demand from customers for woollen products?

Yes, since launching our EJP Wool Sofa range, the feedback and sales have been fantastic. Customers are caring more about the end of life with a product. As soon as you offer a customer a product that is no more expensive, but has the added advantages of wool, it’s kind of a no-brainer. Wool brings some properties that no other fibre can do in one package. It’s flame retardant, moisture repellent, temperature regulating, biodegradable and every six to twelve months there is more of it available.

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