Is Merino Wool The Future of Sportswear?
Natural fabric has long been reserved for apparel designed for comfort and breathability. Cotton specifically is touted for its softness and durability and is probably the first fabric people think of when it comes to natural fabric.
Cotton, however, is not ideal for sportswear, holding onto excessive amounts of moisture and lacking the ability to transfer that moisture quickly to the surface to evaporate. That’s why the world of sportswear is dominated by synthetics.
Synthetics, namely polyester and nylon have the ability to wick away moisture much faster than other natural fibres, and its quick drying properties make it ideal for high-intensity exercise. Synthetics however, derive from coal, oil and natural gas. They can’t break down in landfill, and have a negative impact on the environment. There has been a notable shift in recent years to make the production of sportswear more sustainable through fabric innovation, recycled fibres and championing circularity. This is just the start, but the use of synthetics will continue to play a pivotal role in the production of functional clothing through the years that follow.
The illustration below shows the global fibre production in tonnes in 2020, highlighting the polyester dominance in the market.
But what if there is a natural fabric that provides all the properties of a synthetic, without causing any harm to the environment? Welcome, Merino wool.
The wonders of Merino wool
Wool may in fact be one of the last fibres people would naturally link to sportswear. The reputation of wool is that it is heavy, itchy, and excessively warm. However, Merino wool is very different. The Merino sheep originates from Spain, but now 90% of its production comes from Australia and New Zealand. These harsh terrains and brutally hot Summers should give an indication to just how incredible the fibre is for challenging conditions.
Merino wool’s fibres are characterised by their diameter, ranging between 15 to 25 microns. The thinner the diameter, the softer the fibre. Here in lies the secret to why Merino wool is so comfortable and soft, compared to its heavier wool counterparts.
Merino wool offers an unparalleled amount of performance properties, making it the very best alternative to synthetics in sportswear. Over centuries, Merino sheep have adapted to the environment around them, growing a fleece of wool to tackle the environment they live in.
The fibre offers natural breathability, wicking properties, and crucially the ability to regulate your body temperature, meaning it can warm you up when you’re cold and cool you down when you’re hot. This is why you see Merino used as a hiking base layer so often.
Merino wool t shirt designed for the run
The natural properties of Merino make it the perfect fabric for running. Runners are often faced with changing body temperatures as they get deeper and deeper into their run. Merino wool, with its unique ability to react to changing conditions, both internally and externally, make it the ideal companion for your runs.
Another feature that makes a Merino wool t shirt ideal for running, and all exercise for that matter, is the fact it's impervious to odour. While synthetics are reliant on chemical treatments to eliminate odour, Merino has the innate ability to do it naturally. Breathable, moisture wicking, thermoregulating, and resistant from odour. A natural phenomenon.
Sustainability to its core
Merino wool is 100% natural grown every year on a simple diet of grass, water and air. When a wool fibre is disposed of, it will naturally decompose in soil in a just a few years, enriching the nutrients back into the soil and earth. It’s 100% renewable as sheep grow a new fleece every year and, as we mentioned previously, all of its performance properties come naturally from the fibre itself, no chemical treatments required.
The price conundrum
After listing all the pros of the fibre, you’re probably questioning why we don’t see more of it in sportswear. Simply put, cost always becomes a factor in business. As a raw fibre, Merino is incredibly expensive compared to its synthetic counterparts. That’s why we don’t see it used in mainstream sportswear, it simply doesn’t fit into their pricing architecture.
For Torsa, we believe that top end cost of Merino is well worth it for the value it brings to the customer. We’re proud to use a 17.5-micron (ultra-fine) Merino wool that is spun and knitted in the beautiful hills of New Zealand’s Southern Island. This ultra-fine Merino wool is super soft against the skin, and champions all the other wonderful natural performance properties of the fibre.
Common questions surrounding Merino wool.
How to wash Merino wool?
The seemingly delicate nature of Merino means washing has to be done with a little bit of care. That said, it’s not difficult at all. Machine wash on a gentle cycle in warm or cool water (avoid hot water) as that is wear shrinkage occurs. Use mild soap with no bleach or fabric softener as this will be detrimental to the fibre’s natural performance properties.
Washing the garment inside out may help prevent pilling, and although colour fast, we recommend separating light and darks to eliminate any possibility of colour bleed.
Is Merino wool itchy?
The short answer is no. The reason Merino wool doesn’t itch is due to the fibre’s smaller, or finer, diameter. These finer fibres are more flexible and softly bend when pressed against the skin and, therefore, don't itch like other wool. In most cases, the finer the diameter, the softer the next to skin feel is. We break down the answers to this question here.
Is Merino Wool Warm?
When we think of wool, we think of Winter. Sheep with these big fleeces keeping them shielded from the cold. In truth, Merino wool is so popular because of its warmth relative to weight. It has a natural loft that traps heat between the fibres, making it a great insulator. Arguably, however, it’s as good in the summer time as it is in Winter. As you begin to sweat, the fibres will open up and help ventilate. It wicks away sweat and helps keep your body temperature in check.
A final note
As consumers increasingly opt for sustainable options, Merino wool will no doubt have its place in sportswear for years to come. Technological advancements and the ability to blend with other more durable yarns will put Merino wool right at the forefront of performance fabrics. Its natural ability to wick away moisture and regulate body temperature make it ideal for training and running, and we will continue to invest in Merino throughout future collections, looking at new ways to add value for our customer.