Sarah Reed was wanting to find her purpose as a young rural mum and contribute to their family farming business. It drove her to set up her new clothing venture, The Grumpy Merino.

The business offers base layer of fine wool, sourced directly from the Reeds’ own Merino flock and made into traceable garments by Devold of Norway.

Sarah and her husband Jono, along with Jono’s parents, farm high country sheep and beef station “The Grampians” in Culverden, North Canterbury. As well as cattle and their Angus stud they run a flock of 5500 Merinos.

The Reeds had already been supplying wool to Devold for three years when Sarah hit on the idea of completing the supply chain of Grampians wool – from the ewe in the paddock to the finished garment – during lockdown.

“I think it was about day 50 of lockdown with three kids under six. My brain was dead and I needed to do something.

She felt like she had lost a bit of her identity.

“So I wrote down a heap of ideas of what I could do.”

The Reeds were buying in Devold beanies to give to their bull clients, and Sarah decided to ask if she could buy back the garments made with the wool from their farm and sell them herself. Amazed no one had thought of it before, she got stuck straight in when they said “Yes”.

After shearing, the wool from The Grampians is transported to Christchurch for testing to ensure it meets the Devold criteria. For the contract the Reeds supply the micron must be about 19. Other criteria include length and strength, breaking point, colour and softness.

Jono says it is a fine line between improving function traits of their Merino flock and maintaining wool quality. The goal has been to improve resilience in the flock, making it more easy-care. Key traits targeted are lifting the lambing percentage and lamb survival, improving constitution and eliminating foot issues.

Wool that meets the Devold criteria is sent to its mill in Lithuania where it is developed into garments. Sarah places her order – which designs she wants and the quantities – and buys directly from Devold.

Sarah developed The Grumpy Merino name, concept and website herself. She does her own marketing, social media and photography, and set up a platform to sell clothes through shopify.

The name, The Grumpy Merino, came about by blending the words Grampians and Stumpy (Jono’s dad’s nickname).

Sarah buys the garments wholesale but has import and government tax to contend with. It’s early days but she hopes the business will become a viable stand-alone enterprise and contribute financially to the overall success of the wider farming operation.

Packaging and postage also proved difficult. Jono is the third generation to farm The Grampians, and the couple have three children, Hank, 6, Greta 3, and Alba 10 months.

“The whole brand and concept is eco-friendly and sustainable so I wanted to follow that through the product and packaging. You have a beautiful garment, packaged in recycled paper and posted in a 100% compostable courier bag. Postage is a cost and is tricky as it depends where people live.”

The couple decided to take a hit on postage and do a flat rate, $5 for the South Island and $10 for the North Island, and are hoping it pays off.

Her big focus at the moment is building brand awareness and getting people to try the product so they can experience for themselves how good it is.

“The garments are all European designed. It’s an outstanding, quality product but I need to get it out there, have people see it and wear it.

“It’s an amazing product – I want everyone to enjoy wearing it. The softness, it’s silky smooth and so beautiful to wear. Of course it has the other great wool properties – it’s temperature regulating and keeps you cool when it’s hot and warm when it’s cold, it’s breathable, doesn’t hold odour, draws moisture away from the body, it’s biodegradable, natural – I could go on.

“The thing I love, the inspiration behind it all, is the story.”

She can walk out the back door with the kids to see the ewes – what they’re eating, what they’re doing.

“We can follow the whole process and get returned with a garment.”