Mark and Jane Schwass are award-winning beef and lamb farmers based in Culverden, North Canterbury. Mark and Jane have been clients of WK for many years, they purchased the 956-hectare property at Kaiora Downs in the Hurunui foothills in 2000.  Over the years, the farm has grown; with the purchase of part of the farm next door, they now run an 1,350 hectare farming operation with a primary focus on sheep and beef cattle breeding and dairy grazing for other farmers in the district.

Recently Mark and Jane have diversified their business as they wanted to add value to the cross-bred wool clip from their mob of ewes. Jane strongly advocates wool as a textile material but appreciates that synthetics are cheaper to make and marketed better. Unfortunately, the growth of synthetic fibres has led to a continued depression of wool prices, especially for the thicker micron wools that the farm’s ewes produce. But, Jane was sure that there must be a way to add value to what was close to becoming a waste product with the price of wool so low. Then her daughter visited the farm with her yoga mat under her arm.

Upon seeing the expensive wool mat made overseas from New Zealand wool, Jane had a lightbulb moment, and the idea of how to add value to their wool was born. 

Earlier this year, Mark and Jane launched Kaiora Downs Yoga Mats, made from the farm’s wool, for sale online. The mats are made from the wool shorn on the farm and scoured in Timaru before being felted and dyed. Jane was adamant that the entire process should stay as local as possible, which proved challenging as the felting industry had all but upped sticks with felting of New Zealand wools being mostly outsourced to countries with cheaper production. It didn’t seem sustainable to Jane to send wool overseas for production, only to have it returned to the same shearing shed for it to be sold locally. Fortunately, after much hunting, someone able to provide the felting was located, as luck would have it, in Christchurch.

The mats are made 100% from wool, aside from a small amount of natural latex used on the back to prevent slipping. They weigh 1.4kg and are 18mm thick, providing perfectly soft cushioning for yoga or pilates.  The tight felting combined with the wool’s natural lanolin makes it an excellent material for exercise as moisture and odour do not easily permeate the wool. Once the mats reach the end of their useability for yoga, they can easily be up-cycled to weed mats or pet beds. As they are made from natural materials, they are biodegradable and can be composted once they reach the end of their useable life.

Greg Newman, Agribusiness Specialist, at WK, says, “The work that Mark and Jane have done to bring these mats to market is a great example of how to take a low-value agricultural commodity and add value. When innovations like this occur, WK is exceptionally proud to work with clients to ensure they set themselves up for ongoing success. This could mean assisting with the establishment of new entities or subsidiaries, advice on how to manage inventory and manufacturing data, cash flow forecasting and budgeting, how to deal with inter-company transactions or providing our suite of virtual CFO services.”

One thing is for sure: the WK team members who attend yoga and pilates classes are looking forward to getting their hands (and stomachs, backs, knees and bums) on the Kaiora Downs mats soon.

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