Boutique woollen mills thriving amid COVID yarn-buying boom

Boutique woollen mills thrive as yarn demand booms

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Isabel and Nick Renters of Great Ocean Road Woollen Mill are relocating their business to Ballarat in an expansion that will see them quadruple their annual output.

Isabel and Nick Renters of Great Ocean Road Woollen Mill are relocating their business to Ballarat in an expansion that will see them quadruple their annual output.

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A surge in demand for yarn amid COVID-19 lockdowns has seen boutique woollen mills move to increase their output.

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A surge in demand for yarn amid COVID-19 lockdowns has seen boutique woollen mills move to increase their output.

In Victoria the Great Ocean Road Woollen Mill will quadruple its annual output as part of expansion plans, while in NSW, the Nundle Woollen Mill has seen online business skyrocket.

Isabel and Nick Renters started the Great Ocean Road Woollen Mill on their Ecklin South property in 2015 when they were looking to make productive use of the fibre from their own alpacas.

After crunching the numbers they decided to start their own mill and soon expanded to create their own yarns, with their yarn range using predominantly Merino and alpaca wool, and three years ago started making knitwear.

The majority of their fibre is sourced from within a 100km radius, working with alpaca farmers and sheep producers within Western Victoria.

Now growing demand for their yarn will see them take the mill to the next stage, with an impending move to a farm on the outskirts of Ballarat and new equipment ordered from Italy.

"At the moment we can do up to about a tonne of yarn... we should be able to quadruple our output to four or five tonne a year," Ms Renters said.

"That then means we should be able to wholesale a lot more, including to international markets."

Ms Renters said they get a lot of wholesale inquiries they can't currently fulfill and now have a large online following.

"I've learnt a lot about the knitting community and it's actually really big, a lot bigger than I would have ever thought," she said.

"With COVID in addition then, especially with lockdowns, knitting has been giving people something to do and it's actually been proven that knitting is good for your mental health because it takes your mind off stress and the yarn purchases have been reflecting that."

Owners of Nundle Woollen Mill Nick and Kylie Bradford.

Owners of Nundle Woollen Mill Nick and Kylie Bradford.

Nundle Woollen Mill owners Nick and Kylie Bradford have also had to increase their output to keep up with demand, going from six team members to nine.

While the tourism side of their business has gone through ups and downs during the pandemic, Mr Bradford said online and over the phone sales had been extraordinary.

"I think it's going to set us up for further down the track because we've now got a much bigger customer base to communicate with," he said.

"Our online business has probably tripled in two years.

"We were running at close to full production previously so we've just squeezed a little bit more out of the lemon."

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Mr Bradford said he thought a renewed love for Australian made products was helping drive demand for their yarn.

"COVID has probably renewed people's appetite for a locally made product and I think that's pretty important moving forward," he said.

"I feel there is some possibility that more manufacturing may return to Australia, not just textile but in all industries.

"COVID has hurt us, there's no doubt, but it's also opened up long term opportunities we might not have had previously.

"We used to do newsletters once a month, now we do them every week and when a newsletter goes out we get this massive spike of sessions on the website that definitely convert into sales.

"We're communicating with our customers much better and that's all a result of doing it tough."

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