Interview with Woolx: Warmth, Wool and Sustainability

Interview with Woolx

In my ongoing pursuit of learning how to stay warm outdoors, the next stop on my Q&A series led me to an interview with Woolx. As you’ve gathered from my Woolx Blizzard merino wool heavyweight top review and Woolx midweight merino socks review, Woolx is doing some great things with wool to help people stay warm outdoors. My journey led me to Brian Needels, the General Manager of Woolx and someone who’s involved in most aspects of Woolx development and product testing. So yeah, that qualifies him to answer with authority. Here’s what Brian had to say.

Q: The Woolx website mentions a desire to fill a gap where other merino wool products had been falling short. What were those gaps, and how has Woolx filled them over time?

A: Well, Jonas, a couple of the main challenges we found that other Merino Wool companies faced was the consistency of the feel of the wool and the care needed when laundering. Wool still holds a stigma with a lot of people that it is itchy and is hard to care for. While more companies have made the care of wool garments easier in our testing we find many still don’t have a soft consistent feel across their products. We test out many merino brands here at Woolx and give them to some of our employees to compare to the Woolx, and we’ve found that a fair amount of the other brands still have a scratchy feel to them. We actually have a no-itch guarantee so you can wear ours and if you don’t care for the feel send it back for a full refund.

Q: Have other companies filled those gaps themselves through innovation? Is there more parity today among companies and products than there was upon Woolx’s founding? Or does Woolx still have aspects that make it stand apart (e.g. a special sauce)?

A: Yes, we do see a lot more washable and easy care wool from companies so that has become more mainstream on Wool products. The fell of the fabric though is something that we feel we still have an upper hand on. We aim for that super smooth feel with no scratching or itching and feel that we do stand apart with the consistency of our products in this aspect.

Q: Woolx is obviously a big wool believer – and you’re certainly not alone. In a world rife with synthetic materials, what makes wool so special, and in particular merino wool?

A: Well this could be a pretty long answer but I’ll hit the most important ones.
Wool has fantastic insulating value and is one of the few fabrics that insulates even when wet. The natural crimp in wool fibers keeps moisture away from the skin and creates tiny air pockets that act as insulators, holding in heat next to the body. Wool can absorb up to 30% of its weight in water without feeling damp or losing its ability to keep you warm. This will not only help keep you comfortable in the cold but can be a legitimate lifesaver too, hypothermia is a serious concern for anyone adventuring outside, even in temps as high as 50 degrees, wetness only increases the danger. You never know when you might take a spill into a creek or get caught in an unexpected rainstorm. Wearing gear that will continue to provide insulation even while wet or soaked with sweat is incredibly important. There’s a reason they say “cotton kills”!

Another great advantage with merino wool is the lack of stink. This is especially nice when you’ll be wearing your clothes for multiple days without washing, like on camping trips or longer hikes. The natural wax in wool, lanolin, has antimicrobial properties which kill the bacteria in sweat that creates odors. And because wool manages moisture so well, surviving bacteria don’t have the damp environment they need to thrive. Without the buildup of odor causing bacteria wool garments not only smell better at the end of the day, they don’t develop a permanent stink that can’t be washed away like so many synthetic fabrics are prone to do.

Q: Most consumers hate being cold, but there’s a segment of the population with Raynaud’s syndrome that actually finds the cold painful and at times dangerous – and at temperatures many people wouldn’t consider cold. Does the Woolx design team ever aim for specific segments like Raynaud’s sufferers, or does it take more of a “broad swath” approach?

A: Woolx was designed with warmth in mind, whether that’s for someone who’s camping in below zero temps in the arctic circle or for someone with an extreme cold sensitivity who’s trying to stay comfortable in more normal conditions. This is where having a variety of weights of wool is so helpful. If you’re someone who suffers from Reynaud’s or hypothyroidism where dealing with cold temps can really be debilitating you can go right to our heavyweight line and get extreme warmth without bulk from a single garment. We designed the heavyweights to keep people warm in intense cold conditions where you’re not moving around to generate your own heat, like while ice fishing for hours outdoors. One of our brand ambassadors wore the heavyweights in the Iditarod last year when temps were in the double digits below zero and she was racing for hours at a time. This same level of insulation is great for cold sensitive people who need that much extra warmth even in higher temperatures. The ability to comfortably layer is so helpful too, you can wear a midweight top under your clothes at the office all day and then add some heavyweights over it when you venture outdoors.

Q: My intent with Cold Outdoorsman is to explore the products and companies that can help others like me overcome the cold and (re)discover the great outdoors. There’s a lot of basic knowledge that may be missing among them, and some misperceptions too. For example, that wool both stinks and shrinks. Why do those myths exist, and how do Woolx products debunk them?

A: Well wool used to itch and stink and shrink, so it’s understandable that people would harbor those misconceptions. Today’s modern merino wool, and Woolx in particular, have overcome these issues and can now offer all the natural advantages of wool without any problems regarding odor, itching and shrinkage. A great way for those new to the outdoors to educate themselves about outdoor gear is by participating in the outdoor community. Hikers, runners, campers, climbers, etc. LOVE to talk about what they do and are usually super excited to share their experiences and helpful info. You can join local trail associations, runner’s groups, and conservation organizations and meet so many awesome and helpful people who love to share their knowledge with newbies. There’s also a fantastic online community of bloggers like yourself as well as on social media.

Q: If you could buy just one Woolx item for warmth, where would you start: top or bottom? Why?

A: Taking the differences in people’s tolerance out of the equation, I would say a top. By keeping your body core warm it allows more blood flow to the extremities.

Q: It’s tempting to think of buying wool/warm items just for outdoor activities, but people with Raynaud’s and other cold sensitivities need to think about it every day. Does Woolx specialize in outdoor vs everyday items, the other way around, or is it a split?

A: We like to think that outdoor items are everyday items. Not that you’ll be out adventuring everyday, but that our products are comfortable and stylish enough to wear anywhere, not just the backcountry. Woolx is just at home in the office as it is on the slopes and there is no reason you shouldn’t enjoy the performance properties and insulation of merino wool all day every day, especially if you’re cold sensitive! The turtleneck is a particular work-day staple around Woolx HQ, extremely soft and warm and certainly professional looking. Our base layer is also great as sleep wear, super soft and amazingly warm to snuggle up in on cold nights.

Q: Do Woolx products have any sustainability attributes that people might not be aware of? How much of a role does sustainability play in your design, sourcing, production and even warranty processes?

A: Sustainability is something that wool out of the gate has a big advantage over other fabrics such as synthetics. Longevity is a big one, as quality wool products like Woolx have a long lifespan. I am currently wearing a wool sweater that is 10 years old and looks like new! This results in products that are used longer and not replaced as often resulting in less garments being produced and disposed of!

Wool also does not need to be laundered that often! Most people over launder their clothing. Wool has that advantage of resisting stains and not holding odors. I often go many weeks without washing my Woolx. Early last year for some product testing I actually wore the same Woolx top Jan – March, walking 5 miles a day for three months, and never once washed the top. I would just hang it on the back porch to air out and it was good to go! So Wool greatly reduces the footprint of detergents and energy through decreased laundering needs.

We use minimalistic packaging. This has a snowballing effect right down the line as it results in less weight to ship, which results in fewer boxes, which results in less fuel to ship, and less waste to dispose of at the consumer level. So something as small as packaging can have a huge impact on sustainability.

It’s inspiring that you mention design, as this is something that many people are not aware of. We actually had a quantity of fabric left in a color that was too small to produce an entire run. So we used this fabric as a color block in a design to consume it. It ended up looking great, and though the fabric wouldn’t have been disposed of, it kept it out of the recycle stream. Smaller quantities could even be used a zipper contrast for example.

Woolx is a very young company and we have several projects regarding sustainability ready to implement as we grow.

Q: Imagine someone’s avoided doing many outdoor activities for years because of fear of getting cold. What advice would you give to that person to overcome the cold and get outside again?

A: Layer up and just do it! Start slowly to give yourself time to learn what you need to do to keep yourself comfortable, one or two pairs of socks, heavyweights + midweights and a shell, experiment to decide what works best for you. Over dress at first, you can always remove a layer if you need to. Pack hand and shoe warmers and don’t be afraid to give it a try, gear has come a LONG way in the last twenty years and there are a ton more options for keeping warm, safe and comfortable outdoors now.

Special thanks to Woolx and General Manager Brian Needels for taking time out to participate in our interview with Woolx. I love the Woolx items I’ve reviewed, and I’m sincerely excited to see what wool clothing they have planned next. Keep up the good — and sustainable — work, guys.

Jonas Allen

Jonas spent 17 years covering travel, technology and entertainment for regional and international media. He now writes about gear, clothes and tips to stay warm. He hopes his lessons will help other people who get cold (re)discover the great outdoors.

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