Michael and Kate Tosswill of Bagshot Farm in Masterton. PHOTO/SUPPLIED
From paddock to plate, and now paddock to product, a Wairarapa family has just launched their new line of ethically and sustainably-farmed woollen homewares.
Michael and Kate Tosswill are doing their own work to encourage the wool industry from their farm, Bagshot.
Michael is a third-generation Wairarapa farmer while Kate is originally from Auckland.
The couple recently launched their new business, Hipi, which sells products crafted from wool grown by lambs on their 586-hectare [540-ha effective] farm near Masterton.
“I’m a keen knitter and used to work in the fashion industry,” Kate explained.
The idea of Hipi, which means ‘sheep’ in te reo, was born from a knitting conference she attended in Napier.
“Everyone loves wool and its different qualities.
“I was talking to people from an urban environment about what we did and the fact that we farm on our own.
“We produce this amazing product that is packaged in a way that isn’t always right for the market.”
She realised there was value in this story and 18 months ago set about developing products and a brand.
“There’s a greater awareness of the story behind the product and the environmental impact
“That’s the slow fashion movement which hadn’t really come into homewares.”
The lambswool is taken right through the production process – from shearing, through to scouring, milling, and manufacturing.
Each part of the process supports a local Kiwi business.
“We control everything up until the point of product co-creation.
“With Hipi and our wider farm business, we are careful with who we work with. We don’t make that decision based on price but on the people behind the business and their values.”
Initially, the type of products they could produce was limited by the quality of the wool they produced from their 3500 Romney sheep.
“Some of it was decided by our micron and what we could physically make. But that’s changed as we go along by being more selective about the wool that goes in.
“We absolutely cherry-pick the fibre that goes into this chain, and now we’re doing final-wool genetics.”
Genetic selection was already starting to pay off and the second season had a much finer micron, she said.
She said wool was an amazing fibre in terms of its qualities.
“Biodegradable, sustainable and completely renewable, our wool is an entirely natural fibre, grown year-round here at Bagshot. With no microplastics, no chemicals, and no residues, wool is an excellent choice for your body, your home and our environment.”
Like wine though, wool was “season-affected”, she said.
“This season, our wool will be completely different compared to last year.
“It’s coming through the shed brighter, cleaner and finer.”
Each product comes with a description card, detailing key factors in its production.
The first season’s card reads, “September 2018 was a stormy and wild welcome for our lambs, but shelter and guidance from great mums kept them protected from the last blows of the Wairarapa winter”.
A wet spring and white clover growth contributed to a great rearing environment and each lamb produced about two kilograms of wool, with “uniform and bright fibres with little vegetable matter”.
Sustainability was another key focus of the business, with each item sent out in a compostable bag.
“We love that part. The return to natural and sustainable goods.”
The couple had plans to further develop the farmland and were planning to retire a wetland area later this year.
She said the top of the farm was a “spiritual place”.
One of the other aspects of land development was recognising its significance to local iwi and acknowledging the history of farm settlement.
“It wouldn’t be right to have a te reo name without honouring that,” she said.
“I didn’t want to have a skeleton in the closet. It’s part of the farm and the history.
“We’ve opened up the gates and they can come whenever they like. Our only rule is that they leave nothing behind.”
She said the hardest part of launching was the product development stage, as each item was so unique.
“The knitting and yarn technical knowledge have helped so much.
“Product development was pretty hard because it’s a product that hasn’t been created before. As was navigating the e-commerce world and finding a life-work balance.”
Since launching, the business had grown exponentially.
“It’s so exciting,” she said.
“The brand and the story are so heavily about us, so we’re a bit protective of that.
“The value added to that commodity price makes the hard work worth it.”
- The products are solely available online at hipi.nz.