Covering the upcoming merino summer wool collection from Ibex the other day brought to mind Finisterre and their merino wool range. This small, award winning, British company from Cornwall, make technical apparel for surfers. Not so much for when they are gliding about on waves, but when forced to hang about on terra firma. It is a tightly focussed line, (with a broader appeal than just to waxheads), but one infused with a strong environmental and social conscience.
Aside from making waterproofs that don't need coatings or membranes and insulated garments with recycled polyester shells, the team at Finisterre have taken to merino wool with gusto, offering some fabrications not readily seen elsewhere [*].Superfine Merino
They produce superfine merino long sleeve crew that has a wonderful feel. While the style is not overly remarkable, and the fit is good (I've been testing a gratis trade sample), it is really the fabric itself that sets this garment apart. At 18.5 microns, it is a buttery soft jersey knit, of a quality that gives Icebreaker, the pioneers of this clothing category, a bit of a run for their money, especially given relative company sizes. And speaking of cash, Finisterre's merino base layer retails for much less than competitive garments. A pleasant oddity given that Finisterre manufacture in Europe (Portugal), whereas many of their peers use factories in China.
Yet possibly more impressive is their 'Lofted' merino garments in 20 microns. Imagine your thickest, softest cotton sweatshirt material. Now convert that directly to merino wool. It has a smoothed faced exterior and a cosy, fleece-like brushed interior. The nearest material we've seen that offers a natural, renewable, compostable alternative to polyester fleece, such as Polartec. The Finisterre Arcus looks just like an ordinary cotton hoody, but as it's made from this lofted merino, so is, in fact, a well disguised technical garment, ideal for all manner of outdoor pursuits.
Advantages of Merino Wool
For merino wool is exceedingly warm for its weight. The extra fine fibres harbour an abundance of miniscule 'scales', which trap air, one of the best insulators. But more than that, wool generates heat when wet, so unlike cotton, it does not chill the skin while absorbing perspiration or rain. Wool can absorb upwards of 30% of its own weight in moisture before even beginning to feel damp. And merino, being a much finer fibre than the wool of olden days, has a greater surface area, so it can dry faster too. These attributes combined with it inherent antibactercial properties lend merino an amazing ability to ward off body odour, even after prolonged wear. And nor does it itch like wool of yore. (Most wool prickle comes from fibres which are about 30 or more microns [0.030 millimetres in diameter], whereas quality fine merino is about 20 microns. It is possible to get ultrafine merino down to about 11.5 microns.)
And in comparison to dense loden wool or boiled down merino, Finisterre's lofted merino is way more flexible, stretchy and form fitting. Though to be fair, it won't deflect the wind as well its thicker, felted cousins.
Terry Loop Merino
In between the base layer and lofted outerwear Finisterre slot yet another weight of merino. A fine 18 micron merino with a terry looped interior and smooth outer face. Their versatile Coho top, made of this knit, could be just as easily worn as expedition weight underwear, as it could a high performance casual sweater.
And building on the success they've had in merino Finisterre are planing on expanding the range for 09/10. They are considering some 17.5 micron T-shirts, adding boxers shorts, tanks and long johns to the base layer jersey line up as well as zip turtles necks and yoga style pants to the terry loop collection.
Finisterre are asking their customers to tell them which of these new products they figure will be the best sellers. Customers can peruse a PDF file of the intended collection for 09/10, and email in their suggestions, with the closest entries scoring 20% of purchases from the upcoming collection.
For their 09/10 accessory line they plan to source an exclusive and home-grown British form of wool, that they feel has many attributes equal to merino wool (merino being currently sourced mostly only from either New Zealand or Australia.)
If you lean towards supporting small scale, environmentally committed businesses then check out ::Finisterre.
[ * The avant garde Nau offered brushed merino hoody in their Fall 08 line, but Finisterre have doing it for some years now. ]
Photo credits: Finisterre