Since the 12th century, Merino wool has been one of the world's most sought after commodities. Until the 18th century, export of one of these prized sheep from Spain was a punishable offense. Thankfully, though, this is no longer the case, and the pedigree of Merino remains just as it was centuries ago. You needn't buy Merino yarn in tonnage exclusively from the nobility of Southern Europe; instead, it's readily available from brands like SmartWool.
These daysm, the lush, jagged mountains of New Zealand play host to the majority of the world's Merino sheep, and the same holds true for SmartWool. It works with small, experienced growers in this region to ensure the best quality yarn, which is vital given that a Merino sheep is only shorn once per year. And to add some perspective, one sheep's wool equates to only 40 pairs of SmartWool socks or seven mid-weight base layers. For this reason, every sheep is considered precious; meaning that SmartWool lives by the ethos that good wool requires a happy sheep. That's why SmartWool pioneered the ban of Muesling sheep in New Zealand and refuses to source from any growers that practice this technique of wool removal. It was also the first to extend long-term contracts to growers, providing a sense of security that enables them to continue extending quality care and supervision.
This care and supervision is extremely important when you take into account that the SmartWool flocks require an extraordinary amount of care. In order to produce its tights, gloves, hats, and running socks, the Merino sheep are bred and nourished to produce wool with a very specific thickness, length, and color. This plays well to quality control, but the strong oversight also ensures an ethical treatment of the animals, as well as an ethical business practice around the globe.
Continuing this philosophy, you'll find that 90% of SmartWool's products are knit in America. Your favorite slippers, beanie, pants, or mittens are all ethically produced in encouraging work environments. This means that you get a product that's made with love—from start to finish. But the question begs to be asked: Why wool in the first in the first place? Merino wool, specifically, is naturally hydrophobic, highly breathable, and antimicrobial. In other words, it truly is the "smart" wool. Merino's engrained characteristics lend themselves perfectly to products like the t-shirt and sock, because merino fibers wick and breathe better than most engineered synthetic fibers, while also neutralizing odors and providing a softer hand against the skin.
Sure, getting to the finished product isn't easy, but SmartWool wouldn't have it any other way. The end result is, after all, a remarkable thing to behold–a natural product, with an ethical footprint, that outperforms nearly every synthetic on the market. It doesn't get much better than that.