We ask Suse Fletcher to share with us the magic of Merino wool, the fabric that every parent should know about and how she and Becky Sayer have turned this knowledge into a successful business.
I’m a big fan of Superlove Merino and have bought several of their products for my daughter, so was very excited to interview Suse to find out more about the UK-made luxury baby wear brand. Here’s how it went…
Tell us a little more about Superlove Merino, when you started and who’s behind the brand?
The idea for Superlove was formed in 2012 whilst Becky Sayer and I were both on maternity leave. We’re both into our outdoor lifestyles and we bonded over our love of nature. We were both fans of merino to help our newborns sleep but found that keeping them happy during outdoor adventures, without resorting to synthetic or bulky clothing, was a real challenge. Merino was the obvious answer, but we couldn’t find substantial merino clothing for little ones that was of the same technical standard as those produced by high-end outdoor brands. So we decided to solve our own problem and happily had the skills to do it – I have a wool industry background and am a real ‘wool geek’, and Becky studied product design, and specialises in designing our clever features. Following an intense and caffeinated year, we launched our first collection of merino base layers for babies and toddlers in Autumn 2013. Since then we’ve expanded by adding clothing for kids up to 6, launched a range of pure merino and merino & organic cotton sleeping bags, and won several national awards. We’re passionate about ethics and particulary about our wool, so we spent a lot of time sourcing the right merino and calibrating our fabric to really suit the British climate and it’s something people continue to comment on as soon as they feel it. It’s amazing stuff.
Why Merino? How does the merino wool benefit little people more than other materials
Merino is a true super-fibre, so highly (and naturally) technical that nothing from a lab comes close to it for performance! It is one of those rare things in life that once you’ve tried it you simply cannot ever go back to wearing ‘normal’ stuff again.
Merino wool is at its best worn right next to the skin as a base-layer, as it forms a natural micro-climate around the body regulating both temperature and moisture in balance with the ambient conditions. So in cold conditions merino insulates and keeps you toasty warm, yet conversely when it’s hot it breathes and cools you down. This is the power of nature at it’s best when you consider that the Merino breed have evolved over thousands of years to thrive in extreme conditions that range C from -15°c in winter, to 35°c+ during summer. This makes it such a wonderful fibre for our little ones, who do struggle more to regulate their own body temperatures and lose heat 4 times faster than adults do.
Merino wool has another real super power which is that unlike other fabrics, it is actually even warmer when it gets wet, and by when we mean when since we’re talking about toddlers and kids here! In cold conditions, the merino actively draws any moisture away from the skin so it feels dry and comfortable again quickly, this sets off a natural reaction that generates a tiny burst of warmth – about 1°c which is a godsend for puddle lovers in the cooler months.
Far from being itchy and scratchy like some traditional wool, Superfine merino wool is over 50 times finer than a human hair and feels super smooth and soft against the skin. In fact studies show superfine merino to be highly beneficial for those suffering from sensitive skin or conditions such as Eczema. What is important is to make sure the merino you buy is marked ‘superfine’, as with many things, good merino should be reassuringly expensive (and worth it). It’s also naturally antibacterial and really easy to care for, being machine washable and quick drying.
Then there is the comfort factor. We hear over and over that our customer’s children won’t wear anything else (or sleep if not in their sleeping bag) and are given to stripping down so they can just be in their Superlove at every given opportunity. Hearing that so often makes us so happy, proud and privileged to work with such an amazing fibre!
Where is your merino sourced from and where are your products made?
The Merino we use at Superlove is sustainably produced in New Zealand under the ZQ program, which, by no accident is preferred by all the top active-wear brands. ZQ guarantees not only the best quality in the world, but sees to it that the sheep enjoy the very highest welfare standards. These are some seriously happy sheep!
The fabrics are developed in a clean process facility (no pollutants, no toxic chemicals used) and then made into garments here in Nottingham in a small factory that specialises in high quality garments. We’re so lucky to work with them as we know they don’t take on new brands very often.
What challenges have you faced choosing to manufacture in the UK? And more importantly, what advantages?
Merino is a unique fabric with so much natural stretch (another wonderful benefit) which means that it takes specialist skill and in some cases machinery to work with it. So it was a challenge at first to find the right manufacturer who was equipped to produce the quality we were after. But it has been so worth it and 2 years on from bringing our manufacturing home we’ve never looked back. We love that our business contributes directly to the local economy and the benefits of being able to work closely with our factory are numerous – we’ve got a lot more control over quality than we would otherwise enjoy and in the world of children’s clothing we think the importance of that cannot be understated. When it comes to the design and product development process, nothing beats a sit down over cups of tea with the team who will be making them to iron out any issues before production starts. As a result we’re very nimble and can get our designs to market quickly without cutting corners on quality.
My reason for loving your brand so much is that I firmly believe my daughter’s sleep sack is a huge factor in her being such a good sleeper. Please explain for our readers the science behind this bit
This one can be a real life changer, and we get lots and lots of lovely correspondence from our customers about this – which we love as we know from experience what sleep deprivation does to the whole family.
During the deep sleep phase (non REM) the brain repairs itself and restores, literally cleaning itself of neurotoxic waste that accumulates via the nervous system. In infants this is also a particularly crucial time for growth and brain development. Numerous studies have found that merino significantly improves both the quality and quantity of sleep in infants. It does this by putting the body into a relaxed settled state, lowering heart rate and increasing the time spent in the deep (and most restorative) phase of sleep. Due to the thermo-regulation properties of merino, settling happens more quickly with the studies finding that babies in merino actually cried less. Merino keeps the body in a cocoon of consistent comfort throughout the night, buffering against the peaks and dips of temperature, particularly that notorious 3 am dip in temperature that accounts for so many little ones waking up.
Apart from the benefits to the quality of sleep, Merino also increases the safety. Thanks to the high breath-ability and innate ability to release any excess heat that builds up, the risk of overheating is vastly reduced.
Insomnia is a growing problem in our society, could merino bed wear for adults be part of the solution and is this something Superlove Merino would consider expanding into?
Absolutely, with as much as 45% of the population suffering from some form of sleep problem, the science stacks up for adults as much as little ones. In our families we all wear merino 24/7 and end each day under a wool duvet, I can honestly say it really does make a huge difference and I’ve converted my entire extended family as well. As for merino bed wear for adults by Superlove? Well we laughed the first 10 or so times a mum or dad asked us to do an adult version of our award winning sleeping bag… but by the time we’d heard it 100 times? it’s certainly got us thinking…