The local Merino wool brand Gerber & Co. has partnered with POLO South Africa (owned by local group L.A Group LTD) to develop a capsule collection of 100% Merino wool men’s knitwear. Merino is one of South Africa’s prime resources, as the country is one of the top five exporters of Merino wool globally. This collaboration exemplifies how brands can lean into the concept of slow and sustainable fashion while supporting local communities and creatives.
Deon Saayman, CEO of Cape Wools, which oversees wool producers in South Africa, says that “globally, South Africa is the highest certified, sustainable wool supplier to the whole world. Although South African wool is known globally for the best quality and sustainability, very little of this is making it into the local market. Only if we have support from local retailers do we have the ability to make a difference in the local industry.”
According to Stefan Gerber, the founder and director of Gerber & Co., South Africa has a major broken circle in its retail philosophy where manufacturers don’t support local producers. “They would rather import, in order to get a cheaper price. This is putting people out of work.” He says that collaborations like this one aren’t only important to grow the wool industry, but to also create an awareness “around sustainability: the need for near-shoring [the process of keeping the full supply chain local], the need for regenerative farming practice and a learning around natural production.”
Alia Peer, POLO South Africa’s Creative Director, says that by working from the raw material, it is easier to be much more involved from the beginning to every step of the process. “It is a much longer lead time and the level of involvement is far greater and more demanding. At the same time, it is quite rewarding to have so much more knowledge of the fibres and the potential of it. It makes you so much more appreciative and connected to the raw material through a farm-to-closet project like this, where there is absolute traceability.”
Alia says that using Merino wool in this collection makes it one of POLO’s most traceable projects to date – from the raw material to the finished garment. “[It] celebrates this incredible natural resource grown in our home country. There are not many raw materials that are entirely cradle-to-cradle where you can say, if this ever ends up on a landfill it is going to biodegrade and not only will it break down, it will actually add nutrients back into the soil.”
According to Alia, the industry is shifting towards slow and conscious fashion. “I think we can make change through our consumer behaviour and everyday purchasing habits. I think it is very powerful when a consumer makes a more ethical or sustainable choice. I also think the mindset around how we consume fashion has to change. It is not possible for clothing to be cheaper than your groceries.”
Repairing, repurposing and consuming less together with wearing better quality is very important, says Alia. “Traceability and knowing where your products come from and wearing more local brands is important.”
According to Forbes, post-pandemic consumer patterns are leaning toward supporting local businesses, where buyers are assured of an ethical supply chain. “Places to shop should reflect the identity of the population and communities that use them, where we feel safe and welcomed.”
The POLO range of Merino wool knitwear was created by going into the brand’s archives and focusing on timeless classics. The result is a capsule collection of beautifully made, quality garments, that celebrate this natural fibre and show support for sourcing material from local businesses.