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Wool as a new summer basic: Amsterdam-based brand Joe Merino aims to grow internationally

By Weixin Zha



Goal of Dutch menswear label, Joe Merino: expand internationally, a possible increase in the number of stores in Germany, all the while remaining an online-focused business. After introducing the third summer collection of Merino polos and shirts, the Amsterdam-based brand also joined forces with Woolmark to promote warm-weather wool. FashionUnited spoke with Ron Beckers, co-founder of the classic wool basics focused label, about the rising cost of wool goods, future plans of the brand, and advantages of wearing wool in warm weather.

Why should men wear wool when it’s warm?

It is easy to take care of, machine washable, as well as very soft and not itchy on the skin. The advantage is that it is very comfortable, cool, and keeps its’ color and shape. Wool, itself, is antibacterial so it will smell much less than other fibers. Bacteria will not go into wool fiber, it will only stay on top of it. You can wear it for a couple of days without any problem. The best proof of this is in socks. Men can easily wear our socks for ten days of so. This sounds quite dirty (laughs), but wool doesn’t need to be washed as often, just hung outside.

How do you achieve this features?

We select specific wool. Thickness of the hair is important; the thinner the hair is, the less itchy it will be for the wearer. The regular hair used in products are extra fine with 19.5 micron, we use 15 micron, so it feels very soft. The only people who cannot wear this or find it itchy would be those very allergic to wool. The ultra fine spun hair also makes the material very comfortable for wear in 30 degree temperatures.

Why have you partnered with Woolmark, a non-profit organisation that conducts research and marketing of wool on behalf of Australian growers?

Men often think wool isn’t very comfortable and we have to work against that prejudice. They think it is warm and too itchy. It's a big challenge for the wool industry to convince the consumer that wool can be worn in the summer. That is why we made this video. Wool is already used quite frequently in the sportswear sector.

The trend to use natural fibers in clothing has increased the use of wool. At the same time, the trend to veganism is gaining momentum and there is a rising scrutiny of animal products. Does the recent discussion about mohair concern you?

We are aware of where we buy our wool and who makes the pullovers. Of course the wool business is a large one and there will always be things opening it up to scrutiny or the mistreatment of sheep. There is never have the opportunity to tell the whole story, some things portrayed by the media are often sensationalized. For the whole industry there are a lot of things going right as well; young farmers who take very good care of their animals.

The demand and use of wool increased in recent years and so did prices. How has this impacted your business?

One of the big disadvantages of this development is that the wool prices rising wildly at the moment. The Chinese consumer discovered wool, especially in heavy coats. Sheep farmers cannot produce that many new sheep in one year, it takes a couple. But we will also benefit from the high price because fast-fashion companies will change to cotton, acrylic and polyesters just to keep the price level for a jumper at 29 euros to 39 euros.

How will this impact the prices of your product?

We have to increase prices. It’s not our intention to pressure our suppliers. We’re partners with Woolmark. We work with Suedwolle, one of the biggest spinning companies in the world. In the end, the wool component makes up, more of less, one third of our production cost. If the wool price would increase 50 percent, for example, my prices will most likely increase 15 percent.

Wool in the summer:

    The third summer wool collection consists of short and long sleeves polos, V-neck and round neck shirts, available in six sizes (S to XXXL) and twelve colors. Prices range from 59 euros for a short sleeve shirt with v-neck to 89 euros for a polo and long sleeve. The fiber structure of merino provides permanent ventilation and the shirts also protect against ultraviolet rays.

You have opened three stores in Amsterdam, Antwerp and also in Düsseldorf last year — what do you see as the reason for your growth?

We’re dealing with menswear. We’re not really in fashion, but quality. To be honest, our customers don’t really care about a price increase of ten euros. They just want to have the same pullover again, same fitting, same quality. It’s hard to get these consumers because they have their own favorite labels and own idea of fashion. But if you get them, they’ll be very loyal as long as you give them good service. We don’t do sales. For men a sale is a little bit confusing.

Where is there more room for growth? Are you planning more stores in Germany?

We increase our turnover between 30 to 40 percent each year, and make profit. 70 percent of our turnover is done online. We’re shipping worldwide with our British website, but we’re now focussing on the German market. Now, we have one store in Germany, I think the country is big enough to open three more, like in Munich, Berlin or Hamburg or Stuttgart. But, we don’t want to be a chain or retail concept. We want to be an online supplier. The store is only to give the service, to get the people to know us, for fitting and feeling the products.

Which are the next countries you’re going to?

We have plans of course. We have our name registered in the United States, Japan and the rest of Europe. But the first step would be to go to London, because London is wonderful. People understand wool traditionally. And London has a lot of buying power, I take a lot of inspiration from the UK brands, like the very traditional cables.

About the founders:

    Ron Beckers (1961) and Marc Sijtstra (1968) founded Joe Merino in 2011. They met while studying at the Business University Nyenrode, in Breukelen, Netherlands. Before, Beckers owned his own fashion brand Bellissima Ron and Sijtstra was one of the founders of market research agency Effectory.

Do you have plans for more collections?

We’re working on wool coats that are more water resistant. We will do something with scarves and woven accessories. We’ve been working on pants for next year. We’re gonna make a fantastic Nordic sweater. We will add collections, but slowly, so that when people enter the shop, they recognize the brand and where they are.

Do also have plans for a women line?

At this point we want to focus on the menswear market. Women are kind of complicated. We tried V-neck for women and then we had a woman coming into the shop saying ‘What a wonderful quality, do you have the same pullover in v-neck but just a little bit deeper? Or do you have a cardigan? Does this match with my skirt?’ A man comes in and says ‘Oh you have this t-shirt? I’ll take, one, two, three’. I had my womenswear fashion label for twenty years, I am so relieved that I am not doing this business at the moment. (laughs)

This article was originally written for FashionUnited.de

Photos: JoeMerino
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