Leader of the pack


In Solutions7 Minutes
Sam and Sophie Hurley with their Honest Wolf products.

The bags and lifestyle pieces created by Hunterville farmers Sophie and Sam Hurley have come a long way since the plan was hatched on their honeymoon nearly three years ago.

“It was at the time when single use plastic bags were being phased out in New Zealand and people were looking for alternatives,” Sophie says.

The qualities of wool made sense to them, things like the durability of a coarse wool and the natural thermoregulation (maintaining its core internal temperature) of the fibre.

That meant that a bag made from wool could sustain the weight of a shopper’s groceries, as well as making sure the ice cream wasn’t melted when they got home.

With that, the Casual Shopper 100% wool shopping bag product was born. The bag retails for $149 on the Honest Wolf website.

Their leap of faith started in June 2020. Sophie says at first their accountants were sceptical, they wanted them to wait a year or two before becoming GST registered and getting too official. But after they launched, they sold out of their first shipment.

“Things have progressed quite quickly.”

With no prior experience in running a retail business, let alone product design and development, the couple set out on an undefined path working out how to make their dreams a reality. The progressively poor coarse wool prices, only fanned their flames of passion for farming as well as a fibre they deeply believe in.

With that in mind, the couple approached their local wool buying agent to point them in the right direction, with the hope they could get their wool felted and the product made in New Zealand.

“We eventually found out that the machinery required for the style of felting we needed wasn’t available in NZ, especially for the quantity we had in mind.”

Business stroke of luck

Unflappable in the face of these challenges the couple were rewarded with a stroke of luck, they were put in touch with a representative in New Delhi who has been able to materialise their vision.

“We haven’t even met him in person yet, we had intended to fly over in 2019, but I fell pregnant and with the risk of Zika virus, we decided to postpone the trip,” recounts Sophie.

All of their work with India has been done remotely.

“We’re just really fortunate our guy over there has somehow managed to perfectly interpret everything we wanted to create, until a time we’re able to make it over there,” she says.

The family farming business, Papanui Estate runs a Romney cross Kelso ewe flock, with the average micron of the fleeces ranging from 30 to 35μm. Papanui Estate is 5000ha and runs 25,000 ewes. In the central North Island climate, a second shear is essential for animal welfare. Traditionally, the shorter fibre length of a second shear fleece is a barrier for the productive use of the fibre, but it is however ideal for felting. One second shear fleece from a mature ewe can produce enough felt for two Honest Wolf bags.

“Currently we’re only using a small portion of our total wool clip,” explains Sam. “We’d love to use all of our wool, but we just have to wait and see what happens.”

The wool is shorn and then trucked greasy to Napier, where it is scoured and then sent via boat to India. When the wool returns to New Zealand it has been dyed, felted and assembled into the bags.

“Initially our goal was to have a completely New Zealand produced and made product,” says Sophie, “but that just hasn’t been possible yet.”

The couple would still like to make that happen if they can get to a stage where the volumes will support that investment.

“At the moment we get stung a little bit with import taxes and have had increased shipping costs due to Covid-19 so it just makes sense both financially and environmentally to have it all done here.”

The decision to seek outside expertise to ensure attention to detail has been a part of their recipe for success. The Honest Wolf branding and name was developed with a helping hand from a specialist company.

“We wanted a name that communicated being a leader of the pack, or being outstanding in the field, while using honest materials,” says Sophie.

It was about two years after Sophie initially contacted the branding business before she got back to them.

“They told me not to feel bad because a lot of new businesses don’t even make it that far.”

Since the genesis of Honest Wolf, the Hurley’s product range has grown, and the refinement of their products continues. After initially setting out to create a value-added product, as well as a malleable, home-based career option for Sophie they have learned and achieved so much all while starting a family and continuing farm work.

Despite their remote location and the list of barriers that come with living rurally, they feel that country life has not been a hurdle to their business.

  • See more at www.honestwolf.co.nz