Science & Nature
Jan 1, 2017
ALPS' WOOL "IS VERY VALUABLE"
Swiss wool is well known for its thermal insulation potential. Ortovox bets on this natural fiber to develop mountaineering products.
In 1987 Jon Roner decided to dedicate himself to the raising of sheep. Ever since he does it in Scuol, in the Swiss Alps, from where he sends twice a year wool to Swisswool. It is with Jon Roner's wool of the 150 sheeps, and from other farmers who collaborate with Swisswool, that are made the products of the German brand Ortovox, for example. "Wool is very valuable", says the farmer, whose flock is made up mostly of white alpine sheep.
Martin Keller founded Swisswool that, based in Buchs Switzerland, aims to support the survival of mountain farming. Since 2011, Ortovox has used this initiative to develop and sell insulation products. The trust that Ortovox places on Swiss wool is, however, previous and goes back to 1988. According to the company, Swiss wool fibers have excellent thermal properties which, combined with innovative fabrics, result in high-quality products such as jackets, gloves and even backpacks, all products indispensable to mountaineers who venture, for example, through the Alps.
Swiss wool is then produced in the mountainous landscape of the Alps, where the sheep find a rich and natural source of food. It is between Grisons and Valais that the herds spend the summer months. Shearing is traditionally made by hand in the spring and autumn, that is twice a year, and the wool is subsequently delivered at one of the two collection points which, in Swiss valleys, have been able to collect about 1000 tonnes of wool per year.
If the creation of the herds and the way the wool is obtained remain traditional, it is certain that the result takes the form of modern and high quality products. There is now a stimulation of that regional economy based on fair trade. However, a few years ago the producers' gains were few or nonexistent. The global market did not allow Swiss wool to settle, because it was not possible to weave it directly. With the creation of Swisswool it was realized that the properties of this wool were indicated to function as natural insulation. Thus, a new window of opportunities was opened up to restore the confidence and business of several farmers.
After a long walk down the mountain, a discomforting odor may appear on the clothing. However, in Ortovox products odor is controlled, as wool promotes its neutralization. Merino fibers have protein molecules that destroy the bacteria that give rise to this bad odor. After the walk, the used parts simply need to catch air so they can be used again. It is, however, possible to wash it by machine at 30 °, avoiding dry cleaning or dryers.
Swiss wool fibers also have the thermo-regulation ability to keep the warm in the winter and the cool in the summer. As it is possible for the sheep to survive both seasons, so is the consumer, since the layer of insulation available in products has properties that enhance air circulation.
One of Ortovox's concerns is to ensure that its production takes place in Europe and therefore uses short transport routes. After picking up in the Alps, the wool is taken to Belgium, where natural spots are removed. Subsequently, and in Dinkelsbühl in Germany, the wool is mixed with a maize-based fiber, and finally opened, carded, cross-laid, and thermally stiffened.
Ortovox is headquartered in Germany, but the company has offices in 32 countries, such as Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, France, Chile, Russia, New Zealand or the USA. It emerged in 1989 and markets products as diverse as mountain clothes for men and women, bagpacks suitables for mountaineering or emergency equipment for avalanche situation.