Manufacturer Portrait Woolpower: Soft wool on a tough mission

Photo: Woolpower
So natural! So soft! So functional! Merino wool is the latest trend. And Woolpower people are all smiles: In Jämtland in Sweden they have been knitting with Merino for 40 years. Bet you did not know it is optimised for hard wear.

Is Jämtland the new Silicon Valley of the outdoor scene? It almost seems so. While bright minds are taking the challenge in California to develop the latest software and computers, it is all about the perfect equipment for the outdoor life in the province in central Sweden.
The Jamts – how the residents of Jämtland are called – like to spend their free time in the Fjälls. During summer, they wander around with their backpacks, during winter they ski and haul sleds. So they inevitably know if their equipment works or not. And if it does not, they get the urge to do something about it: the Jamts have always either improved the equipment or manufactured it themselves from scratch. So, it is no surprise that many famous outdoor manufacturers originated in this area: Hilleberg, Trangia, Lundhags, Klättermusen – and, of course, Woolpower, the specialist for functional underwear located in Östersund.

 

Every sewer signs her products

Function, not fashion! It is all about the quality.

Woolpower – hardly any outdoor spring chicken will know their original name Ullfrotté – has always favoured the natural fibre wool. The Swedes cannot help but laugh about the current hype about Merino wool. They discovered the fascinating features of the fine new wool way back in the 70s – and have been improving it ever since in typical Jämtland style.
As an early manufacturer of nylon stockings, Ullfrotté already possessed the technical know-how when they were looking for a sturdy material which should offer maximum cold protection during physical exercise as well as when having a break. They involved scientists, doctors, survival experts and the Swedish army in their research work. Out came a material mix which even today varies only very slightly. It consists of two thirds merino wool and one third synthetic fibres. A combination that warms very well – even when wet – and is much more wear-resistant than pure wool. In Scandinavia, Ullfrotté soon became the quintessence of functional underwear. First of all they produced working clothes for the army, roadworkers, hunters and stevedores. They swore by the knitwear.

... and sometimes a little bit of colour.| Photos: Woolpower
The term »Frottee«, meaning terry cloth, does not come by chance. On the inside of the clothing, the wool is knitted in lofty terry loops. In combination with the frizzy fibre, more air can be trapped thereby creating an additional isolation layer. At the same time, moisture can escape easier thanks to the lofty loops.

Woolpower’s socks, underpants, shirts, jackets, beanies and belly warmers are a Patagonian-German-Swedish co-production: the wool comes from Merino sheep grazing in Patagonia’s vast countryside. It gets spun and coloured in Germany. Final production takes place in Östersund, 85 employees take care of that. Sleeves, trouser legs and other clothing pieces for the body are circular knitted with special machines so less seams are needed – which prevents pressure marks when carrying a backpack.
Once the single pieces have been knitted, pre-washed and punched out according to planned usage, they are handed over to the sewer. She is responsible for the new Woolpower piece from the first stitch right up to the packaging. She even adds her name to the label – every employee signs off their work.

 

Difficult start in the synthetic era

From the Fjäll (mountain) to the rest of the world: Woolpower produces the whole range in Östersund. | Photo: Woolpower
The comparison with Silicon Valley at the beginning is flawed if you take a look at the company culture of Jämtland’s manufacturers. Instead of trendy start-ups, you will find a rather socially conservative family business. Woolpower is owned by »Gränsfors Bruks Moderbolag«, a family-owned consortium. The famous Gränsfors axe smithery is also part of the group. The company has always been location in Östersund, a move to the Far East was never a question. Although sales have doubled during the last five years, the Swedes are careful and focus on healthy but steady growth. They buy the wool on the long term, even though this strategy may restrict their ability to respond rapidly to the latest fashion colours.
It‘s easier to understand the Nordic restraint when you appreciate the circumstances at the outset. The now popular Merino clothing had a difficult start. The 1980s and 1990s were an absolute synthetic era in the outdoor industry. Natural fibres were pretty much frowned upon, especially when they were used for functional underwear. The industry demanded light and quick-drying synthetic fibres. However, these were not as comfortable and low-odour as Merino wool.
That is one of the reasons why Ullfrotté first only took off for working clothes. Especially public institutions appreciated the durability of the wool products and the possibility to wash them in big laundries at 60 degrees for reasons of hygiene – fashionable design was of secondary importance.
»Function, not fashion« is still the motto in the factory in Östersund. You will hardly find fancy looks in the Swede’s collection. Instead, you get sturdy and robust cold protection equipment. So even after a multi-week hiking tour and a rubbing backpack, your clothes will not fall off your shoulders in bits.

 

Entering the Globetrotter range in thick socks

One for all: Woolpower underwear on a mission. | Photo: Woolpower

One of the first outdoor retailers that took notice of the knitted clothes from Jämtländ was Globetrotter Ausrüstung. They added a wooly cold protector from Sweden to their program way back in 1993: an 800 sock made of Marino wool. Tried and tested in the Scandinavian winter, from then on they were to keep German feet in winter boots warm too. After the first test, an overview of the Ullfrotté range was published on the back of the winter handbook 1995 to attract customers. Since 2000, socks, shirts, Long Johns, a balaclava and a belly warmer are now part of the Globetrotter range. They do not look very spectacular in their grey, brown, black and olive colours, but they are tried and tested and much in demand. The biggest change came in 2006, when Ullfrotté was re-named Woolpower. The quality has never changed.
The current Merino trend is however not bypassing the Swedish manufacturer unnoticed. Today, the product is not only worn in the depths of winter but also in summer: the natural fibre has proved to be great for T-shirts too. On the 40th anniversary of Woolpower, a Lite-collection was developed without the terry cloth loops and thus less insulating. The quality fanatics will not produce products with a basis weight below 200 grammes however (see box above). »With less weight we cannot guarantee the same wear resistance we want to offer our customers.«, says Jesper Rodig from the German importer Scandic Outdoor in Seevetal.
The new collection also features more variety: the rather plain colours are now supplemented with maybe a red shirt with orange seams. You do not need more fashion fuzz in Jämtland. It is more important that the Woolpower underwear keeps you warm and dry on the next tour in the Fjäll. Just like in the last 40 years.

 
4-Seasons Info
 

Woolpower at a glance
 

The Swedes only work with the finest Merino wool from Patagonia, to which they add 30 Percent synthetic fibres (a different mix with polyamide, polyester and spandex depending on the area of use ). Woolpower – in comparison to other merino products – is washable at 60 degrees and proven to be very durable in adventurous outdoor life. Everything is produced in Jämtland. Materials of different warmth categories per square metre of fabric are used. Usually this is indicated in the product’s name. Woolpower’s »light« products start with 200 (stands for 200g/sqm), a warmth level at which some competitor’s products are already mid-range. 400 is made for usage
during winter. And what about the super warm Wildlife Socks 600? You can either wear them while ice fishing
– or as indoor slippers.
 

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