How did Cosy Toes come about?
I was brought up on a sheep farm in the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s and knew about wool as I had grown up wearing it, working in it and playing in it. I knew that wool was a wonderful fibre because I had been taught and had many advantages over other man-made fibres because of my up-bringing.
In 2005 when my two boys were 2 ½ years and not quite 1 year old I couldn’t find any wool socks for them in the shops. I asked some friends with children and they all said the same thing that I wouldn’t find them. Back then there was a real lack of any woollen clothing for children unless you had someone knit it for you. I hadn’t realised that certain wool products had fallen away from the market until I needed them for my own children.
So I began researching about what had happened to our New Zealand wool industries over the years. I learnt about the highs of wool farming like the positive effects the wars had on wool and when wool had no competition from imports and plastic. Then I learnt about the slow decline of why wool was no longer a product that was essential to our industries.
I began phoning New Zealand sock factories and asking them why they weren’t manufacturing wool socks in little sizes anymore. Their responses were all the same that the cost was not viable and the pressures of cheaper imported socks had lessened the market for them. Most factories had the machinery for the small socks at some stage but had long gone and had been scrapped.
I was very lucky to find one New Zealand factory that still had a machine up and running and was still manufacturing a small line of wool socks which I tagged on to and then started marketing my own brand. There were many ups and downs after that like how to sell them with a small family was one. A website from my rural location was the answer to that but that’s another long story. I gave Cosy Toes three years and thought if it didn’t work at least I would have lots of wool socks to give to friends!
What made you choose Merino wool as a textile when you created Cosy Toes?
I didn’t choose merino wool as such. I just chose wool and worked with my manufacturer but learnt the fibre that was being used was merino anyway. I think companies like Icebreaker helped to make the word “merino” a popular and on trend word. So consumers around the world were talking about merino not wool anymore. So I stopped labelling my socks and clothing with the word wool and re-branded to merino. But I was still concerned that people would not know that merino was a type of wool from a sheep. So part of my story and educating my customers is that merino wool is the wool from a breed of sheep which I think is very important for all aspects of New Zealand wool promotion.
You created the fantastic online group “We Love NZ Wool”. What was the catalyst for that?
I had been thinking about starting a New Zealand wool group on Facebook for a long time. I already use Facebook a lot for advertising, marketing and talking to my customers for Cosy Toes and know it as a useful avenue to reach people. I have always read a lot of wool industry news and marketing for business either online or in print and it seemed like lately the only wool news that I was reading was the decline or crash in price for wool. I also felt that our wool stories have been lost over the years and a lot of our wool knowledge has also gone. This information has to be important for wool promotion not only in New Zealand but around the world. Facebook has a very large reach of people around the world and I thought if I started a group of like-minded people who love NZ wool that we could come together and share our knowledge, positive stories, photos, nostalgia and events centred around NZ wool. There is never any negative “wool decline” articles posted on the page as I’m not interested in that and I am sure there are many more people that have had enough of that too. I’m only interested in the positives of NZ wool which in turn will help tell positive NZ wool stories to the world.
How do you think that NZ can improve as far as marketing wool as a more ethically and environmentally friendly choice on the global stage?
I actually asked my brother this one as he is a sheep farmer. We both agree the wool industries need fresh “young and smart marketers” to market our wool. I have learnt over the years with my business that our knowledge of wool that we grew up with is no longer what everyone knows. We have taken this knowledge for granted that everyone knows about the qualities of New Zealand wool and this knowledge has been lost, so we need to keep telling everyone the benefits of using wool. Once upon a time every New Zealander knew about wool and the benefits of wearing and using it but that is just not true anymore – let alone the world’s population. Educating consumers on the benefits of wool, telling others our stories, what we do and how we use NZ wool and fresh marketing on a global scale as well as at home is a must. Especially promoting how wool is a natural fibre that is earth friendly should be a top priority.
Do you think that today’s consumer cares more about connecting with the origin and manufacture of the products they purchase than in the past?
Yes more and more so but price unfortunately puts the brakes on what people can afford. So those that can’t afford a premium product will go for what they can afford every time – cheaper synthetic products and Made in China etc. However, there is a growing number of consumers who really are trying to be environmentally friendly. So these are the people we need to reach and tell them we have this wonderful, natural product that fits the bill. There is also a group of consumers that like to support buying New Zealand made industries and can see the value in the chain of employment that just one garment can support in New Zealand. For instance: the farmers, the seed agents, the contractors, the shearers, the shed hands, the office administrators, the factory cleaners, the machinery operators, the dispatchers, the sales people, the courier companies, the retail store owners and assistants – just for one pair of merino socks!