Patagonia relaunching merino in fall 2011

Specialty outdoor retailers might be facing questions from consumers early this year on what happened to Patagonia’s merino wool base layers. SNEWS takes a look at why the line is going on spring break and summer vacation in 2011.
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Specialty outdoor retailers might be facing questions from consumers early this year on what happened to Patagonia’s merino wool base layers.

The line vanished from Patagonia’s website (www.patagonia.com), previous inventory is scarce and some online forum users have claimed its demise.

Not so fast -- for the rumors of Patagonia’s merino death have been greatly exaggerated.

The company put the line on hiatus this spring to "redevelop it from the ground up," Patagonia’s strategic environmental materials developer Todd Copeland told SNEWS® "That was quite a big undertaking, so we wanted to take our time.”

Patagonia’s revamped merino line is slated to return to stores with its Merino 2 Lightweight (MSRPs: Tee $65, Crew $70, Zip-Neck $80, Bottoms $70) and Merino 3 Midweight (MSRPs: Crew $85; Zip-Neck $95, Hoody $125, Bottoms $85) in fall 2011, and the Merino 1 Silkweight (prices to be determined) in spring 2012.

The redevelopment addresses past supply chain constraints, and provides more durable and environmental-friendly materials and practices, Copeland said.

Patagonia is switching from a New Zealand-based merino wool to one from Australia. The new supplier, e-wool, has a more sustainable and traceable wool supply, which helped Patagonia achieve bluesign environmental standard approval for the garments.

Ever since Patagonia launched its original merino line in 2006, it’s had to deal with some of the fabric’s common usage downsides. The first product was 100-percent wool, and was turning up as kid’s sizes in people’s dryers, we were told. Patagonia eventually found a chlorine-free treatment for the wool’s shrink resistance.

In 2009, the company also started to blend the merino wool with recycled polyester to reduce pilling and snagging problems. For the new line, Patagonia settled on an 80-percent merino wool and 20-percent recycled polyester blend for its Merino 2 and 3, and a 65/35-percent blend for its Merino 1. Along with strengthening the clothing, the blend provides for better wicking and hasn’t compromised the wool’s natural ability to combat smells, Copeland said. Another benefit – with rising wool prices, the polyester addition has helped keep costs in check.

Also new, the entire line will be in Patagonia’s slim-fit measurement – something to keep in mind if consumers are thinking of the previous line's fit standard.

The spinning of the fibers is done in Korea, the knitting of the fabrics in Thailand, and cutting and sewing of the garments in Vietnam. That’s more streamlined than before, if you can believe it, Copeland said.

Which begs the question to why Patagonia, and many other companies for that matter, aren’t using a U.S.-based merino supply chain to cut down on transportation.

Patagonia looked into it, Copeland said, but the market here just isn’t big enough. Plans are in the works for Patagonia to produce a limited lifestyle merino wool product entirely supplied and made in the United States.

“We’re proving it out to see if it’s possible,” Copeland said. “It’s been a challenge just to get in a small program that meets all our environmental standards.”

--David Clucas

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