ZQRX: Regenerative Merino Wool
The gold (and green) standard of Merino wool.
We partner with the New Zealand Merino Company—which developed ZQ-certified wool—to ensure environmental, social, and economic sustainability while safeguarding animal welfare.
Give more than you take.
And now we’re working with them to focus on
Most of our product’s carbon emissions come from growing the actual wool—so not only will this help cut down on carbon emissions, but it helps regenerate soil while building a sustainable future for Merino farming. Learn more about our carbon sustainability efforts here.
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What is at the core of ZQRX?
Regenerative inputs and outputs
To measure this, New Zealand Merino designed a new platform called the Regenerative index. This helps growers track how much they are giving back to the environment, the animal life within that environment, and the people and communities interacting with that environment.
Technology that serves nature
Where nature has traditionally served technology, they are using technology to serve nature by automating data collection and processing requirements that sit behind this index.
Positive human action
ZQRX wool growers:
These are the ZQRX wool growers who are interacting with the natural world at a grassroots level I.e. restoring waterways, protecting native species, offsetting carbon, and enhancing local communities.
Brand partners who are sharing ZQRX grower’s stories with consumers and celebrating responsible clothing.
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What it takes to be ZQ-Certified
We work with our partners at ZQ Merino to encourage and support them through auditing, training, and innovating methods to achieve our mutual goals.
Our sheep enjoy five simple freedoms.
Freedom from discomfort and inadequate shelter
From sea level to mountain passes, Merino sheep thrive in beautiful, yet extreme climates. They’re made for these conditions. However, in order to protect our sheep from stress and to help ensure that they produce the best fiber possible, our farmers provide adequate shade and shelter.
Freedom from thirst, hunger, and malnutrition
Farmed on a free-range basis, our sheep forage as they please. Sheep with proper nutrition are better able to cope with things like extreme weather. Our sheep always have access to clean water and proper nutrition.
Freedom from significant injury and disease
Our farmers regularly monitor their flock, prevent disease and illness, and rapidly diagnose any health issues—essential in minimizing stress and discomfort. This stockmanship knowledge is developed over generations of farming Merino sheep.
Freedom from unnecessary pain or distress
Our farmers carefully handle and manage sheep to avoid unnecessary pain or distress. Practices like mulesing that cause harm are never permitted, and facilities are properly maintained to ensure that they do not pose a risk of injury to the sheep.
Freedom to display normal patterns of behavior
Our sheep spend the majority of their time roaming thousands of acres of open pasture. This allows them to freely express their natural behaviors with minimal human interference. We want our sheep to have happy, healthy, carefree lives.
The best wool starts with the best growers.
The ZQ-accredited growers we work with are devoted to their trade, and we want to keep it that way. We were one of the first companies to create long-term contracts with our Merino wool growers to ensure that we can use ethically sourced wool. These contracts offer assurance of future fiber demands and stable income, so growers can better manage their flocks, plan for the future, and at the same time, provide us with a stable source of high-quality Merino wool.
Great growers are critical to the quality of the wool, the success of their flocks, and our ethically sourced products. Merino wool growers are passionate and work hard to look after their sheep and their land. Under the care of our growers, sheep are integrated into the natural environment and help maintain it. As part of our ethical sourcing policy, our farmers commit to exceptionally high standards of animal welfare, responsible use of land and water resources, and sustainable farming practices.
The sheep producing the wool for your favorite Smartwool® socks or base layers are treated humanely, are well-fed, live natural and healthy lives, and are not subjected to harmful practices like mulesing. This means you’re getting the highest-quality ethically sourced products and Merino wool.
We collaborate with our supply chain partners, who share our commitment to high standards in order to make more sustainable clothing.
We work with our partners at ZQ Merino to encourage and support them through auditing, training, and innovative methods to achieve our mutual goals. Manufacturers and subcontractors are audited each year with a focus on continuous improvement. We use internal and external resources to evaluate factories. To make sure we are using ethically sourced wool, our review process is collaborative and focuses on root causes.
Ethically sourced wool products begin with flocks of hardy Merino sheep grazing on green grass in the shadow of jagged peaks. Our sheep are raised to roam. They always have access to clean water and ample food, shelter, preventive care, and speedy treatment, and often call thousands of acres home.
After mixing and washing the wool, fibers are smoothed out and are aligned to be parallel. Carding also introduces a small amount of twist—creating what’s called a wool sliver.
Shearing is essential for the health and hygiene of each individual sheep. Unlike other animals, most sheep are unable to shed. So they get an annual haircut (one wool fleece can produce 40 pairs of socks), after which the fleece heads out to be washed and cleaned.
Clean wool is combed into “top.” That’s the long fluffy fibers that are left after the short ones are combed out—leaving super soft, beautiful wool. The clean wool is blended again and aligned before spinning.
The fleece coming straight off the sheep’s back is full of lanolin, which is removed in the cleaning process. That lanolin goes to good use—being repurposed for everything from kiln fuel to skincare.
Turning the lofty slivers of wool top into soft, strong, yarn takes a lot of specialized machines. To get the right consistency wool top is blended multiple times. We take a naturally varied fiber and create consistency and evenness. Fibers are gently combed apart. Next, a series of machines compacts and pulls the fibers into yarn. Twist is added to hold the yarn together and provide strength. Finally, the yarn is wound onto a cone and shipped to our knitting mills. A standard cone of yarn has almost 25 miles of yarn.