A Guest Blog by Marina Shearer
I began my career in manufacturing; I was employed as the assistant to the production manager at PDL Industries so I'm used to factories and I love to see a factory in full flight. When I first walked into the Wild Earth Yarns factory it was a full sensory experience; the smell of wool the sight of machines whirring and the sounds of activity filled the atmosphere. It was an exciting place for a sheep farmer's wife to walk into for the first time and it filled me with huge hope for the future of wool in NZ when I found out that it is the only factory of its kind in the South Island.
I was also aware that what I was looking at was some very old machinery and that the man in charge of this machinery had a very big job on his hands servicing this factory full of gigantic green machines. Graham McLaughlin is one of the humblest men I have ever met; his engineering skills are put to the test every day just keeping the Wild Earth Yarns factory operating; not to mention the ongoing refurbishment projects that he has on the go continuously.
In 1960 there were 18 functioning Wool Mills in NZ producing 10,000 tonnes of carpet, 3 million square metres of fabric, 223,000 blankets, 67,000 rugs. Our history of supplying clothing and blankets for two world wars had kept wool manufacturing in NZ a successful enterprise. In the 1950's synthetics started to make their way into our lives and the competition that this cheap fabric brought ended up in the ruination of our entire wool industry.
By 1982 there were only 8 Wool Mills left in NZ and by 2000 all of the major mills had closed. The Mosgiel Woollen Mill was put into receivership in 1980 after 110 years of operation. Graham McLaughlin from Wild Earth Yarns has been relocating machinery from Bruce Woollen Mill in Milton and repurposing it at their factory in Edison Place, Bromley Christchurch. Graham arranges for the transportation of these gigantic machines that weigh multiple tonnes, once delivered he sets about on the restoration and rebuilding required to get them back into use. Wild Earth Yarns is excited about their most recent acquisitions that will mean better production for short fibres and fine fibres.
With a lifetime of experience around wool machines it is only possible for men like Graham to take machinery from the past and repurpose it for a future. For wool to make a come back in NZ we absolutely need the skills of engineers like Graham to continue their passion for machinery. On behalf of rural NZ and all the sheep farmers of our country I thank Graham and Jacqui for what they are doing to keep wool manufacturing possible in NZ.