BROL's first collection is made of DutchMerino, a yarn spun from the wool of merino sheep that live barely 10 km from the Belgian border. But what makes this yarn Brol? You can read it here!

When you buy a merino wool garment, the yarn will usually be spun from the wool of merino sheep that graze in Australia, New Zealand or South Africa. Over the past decades, these countries have invested heavily in breeding these sheep for their fleeces, which resulted in top quality wool. Because of the strong focus on this (from a Belgian point of view) foreign market and the importance of soft wool, the sheep in our region are mainly used for the meat. The hairs of their fleeces are stiffer and thicker and therefore less soft. As a result, it is often seen as a residual product and not valued. The furs of the sheep you see in our meadows will often be used as insulation or (it's too crazy for words) thrown away, while they still contain a lot of qualities.

But things are changing in the world of wool. More and more, the focus is on local wool processing, whereby the animals are viewed in their entirety and a flourishing wool industry can once again arise in Belgium and the Netherlands . Wool farm Blij Bezuiden wants to contribute to this with its DutchMerino.

© Woolfarm Blij Bezuiden

Wolboerderij Blij Bezuiden

How it started

Since 2005, Janny Wijna and Jean-Paul van den Bunder have been running Wool Farm Blij Bezuiden together. What started as a shared passion for the outdoors and 4 ewes and a borrowed ram, grew into a farm with a flock of almost 100 sheep. In Koewacht, less than 10 km from the Belgian border, their sheep graze freely in the green.

Merino wool

The choice for merino wool was a foregone conclusion for Janny, as this breed is known for its excellent coats. Yet not every merino yarn is equally soft. At present, the Australian and New Zealand merino is the most highly regarded. They have been breeding merino sheep for decades on the quality of the fleece. Merino wool with a micron* of 16 is no exception there. Achieving such qualities is only possible in the long term, and the smaller the flock, the longer it takes of course. Nevertheless, Janny and Jean-Paul have succeeded in obtaining coats with a micron between 17 and 23 (and believe me, that's soft!). The average hobby alpaca has a micron of 23). The white coats are usually softer than the brown ones. The size of the herd is not the only thing that determines the duration of such a project. At the Wool Farm, the health, strength and sobriety of the sheep also play a major role. Still, they hope to get their micron standard below 20 within about five years, to bring even more consistency to their fleeces.

*The micron indicates the fineness of wool. The number refers to the thickness of the hair. The thinner and thus the lower the number, the softer.

© Woolfarm Blij Bezuiden

Animal welfare

Taking good care of the animals is not only good for the quality of the coats, but also for the animals themselves. At Wool Farm Blij Bezuiden, they do this not only by giving the animals the best possible life, but also by thinking about the impact of keeping animals on our planet. In other words, the footprint has to be as low as possible. One way they do this is by limiting the distance the sheep and fleeces travel. The sheep are sheared on the farm, after which the fleeces are sent to Italy. There they are processed (= washed, spun and dyed) within a 15 km radius and returned to the Netherlands. Attached to the farm is a (web)shop, where the yarns are sold for hand- and machine knitting and weaving. Part of the yarn is processed in their own DutchMerino collection (a collaboration with Nathalie Comans of Ministry of Knits) in a Belgian knitting factory.

And what happens to the animals after shaving? They let their fur grow back until the next shearing. Some of the lambs and sheep are used for meat. This processing takes place only 2 km from the farm. This way, the impact on animals and the environment is limited and the story remains local.

Dutch Merino

So what does all this mean for the pieces in the collection? Well, first of all, as a customer, you can perfectly trace which way your piece of Brol has travelled. From a trip from Koewacht to Italy and back to Koewacht. From there to the workshop in Berlaar and so on to the customer. You might also have noticed that the pieces from the collection do not carry any certificate to indicate that they were made in a responsible manner? Well, the rules are strict (and that's not a bad thing) and if you want to hang something like that on your garment, all the players in the story have to have the required certificates. And although the process of wool-processing in Italy is fully GOTS-certified, for example, Janny and Paul do not have one themselves. This is partly because they rent their meadows and it takes a long time before your tillage is considered organic. On top of that, such certificates are often not cheap and it is therefore not always obvious for the small(er) players to invest in them. The solution then is: transparency, and expose your entire working process, from raw material through processing to the end product.

And how soft is the DutchMerino? So soft that you can wear them on the skin. Though the anthracite is just a little less soft, because, as mentioned above, the darker coats have slightly thicker hairs. But don't worry, even the anthracite is far away from the concept of 'prickly wool'.

© Woolfarm Blij Bezuiden

Conclusion? DutchMerino is Brol because it tries to bring about a shift in how we in our regions look at our sheep (and their fleeces). Where now it is mainly seen as a waste product or a necessary evil, people like Janny and Paul make us appreciate the power of such a fleece again. Of course not every fleece or breed of sheep is equally suitable to be used in the textile industry, but even then a lot of options remain open. Don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with foreign (non-European) merino. But why go and get it from the other side of the world, when it grows in your backyard, so to speak? Let us think a bit more about how, where and why. And should all farmers suddenly start breeding merino sheep? Of course not! There are still so many wonderful (local) sheep breeds, each with its own qualities. Let's start with looking at the whole package, that is the least these frisky four-legged creatures deserve.

Curious about what this DutchMerino collection by BROL looks like? Discover them here!

(Do you work with merino yarn yourself? Then be sure to check whether there was any mulesing. No idea what mulesing is? Then I recommend you read this article by Sarah Vandoorne. Or you can google images, but I don't recommend doing that on a sober stomach).