At the junction of the Ohura and Whanganui Rivers, off the Forgotten Highway and up a 16 kilometre dirt road, you will find two women who have created a small business doing big things.
ShearWarmth is the only company in New Zealand making traditional woollen blankets from wool traced back to the farm.
ShearWarmth is the brainchild of Lyn and Monique Neeson, a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law duo who wanted to bring back the traditional uses of wool while also ensuring their wool sold for a fair price.
“We started the business in 2009, however it took until 2011 before our first blankets were produced as we needed to find the right people to carry out the various stages of production,” says Lyn.
“Ensuring we have a small carbon footprint was one of our initial goals so we were conscious of using producers and suppliers as close to our farm gate as possible.”
The wool is scoured in Napier, spun in Levin, woven in Auckland and the finished material returned to us to be cut to size. A seamstress in Taumarunui then sews the satin edging.”
The blankets are made from the farm’s Romney lambs and hoggets, and are available in three sizes and a range of colours.
“We find customers often purchase our blankets for special occasions such as wedding gifts and births,” says Lyn.
“The blankets have a story behind them, and customers want to pass on that story.”
Each blanket comes with a birth certificate explaining its origin; from the farm gate through to the production process and packaging. Monique and Lyn also share news, stories and images of their farming lifestyle amongst a remote rugged landscape via their popular Facebook page and ShearWarmth website.
ShearWarmth have been so successful in recent times that an airline purchased 150 blankets to be used as corporate gifts last year. The Neesons also appeared on TVNZ’s Country Calendar in 2016, and were interviewed by Radio New Zealand in 2017.
ShearWarmth now want to move their business forward, targeting international markets.
“We find that summer is our ‘off-season’ so by moving to an international brand we hope to off-set that,” says Lyn.
ShearWarmth have applied to SheEO, a global organisation who support and celebrate female entrepreneurs, for funding to expand. They recently made the Top 10 ventures for New Zealand with the hope of being selected for the top five. It’s a rigorous process, requiring a sound business plan because, if successful, they will receive advice, expertise and an investment in their business.
“If we are successful, SheEO will be able to give us that push to get to the next stage, it is really exciting!” says Lyn.
“And even if we don’t make it to the top five, the application process has helped us to remain focused and put a clear plan in place.”
Lyn and Monique feel incredibly fortunate they have been able to build their business from such a remote location, 50 kilometres to their nearest town Taumarunui.
“We are part of a very supportive community, we source services and products from local suppliers as and where we can, Rural Delivery have been vital and we are part of a small business network within Taumarunui,” says Lyn.
“It’s amazing how many small businesses and entrepreneurs are in town, we meet regularly, and provide support and advice for each other.”
There are some challenges though, rural broadband is a real issue and can limit their capacity to work on their website. Digital connectivity is one of the enablers identified as a focus area by Accelerate25, with regional leaders welcoming central government’s commitment to fast-track the ultrafast deployment schedule, with completion expected by 2022.
The travelling distance to trade shows and markets can also be frustrating, especially when Lyn and Monique need to pack up all of their display equipment along with products each time.
“But, you know it comes with the territory, realistically we wouldn’t have it any other way,” says Lyn.
“That said, we are very keen to create a presence in Taumarunui, a location off the farm where we could carry out production and sales.”
"Sometimes we need to pinch ourselves as we find it hard to believe how well we have done in such a short space of time, but we are doing it and we have some very exciting plans for the future.”
In the meantime, while it has been a long, hot summer, it’s bound to be a cold winter and a new woollen blanket may be just want you need. Visit www.shearwarmth.co.nz to buy one today.