Friday, November 12, 2010

Places I love to shop at for merino and other woollen garments

I mentioned my love of Icebreaker clothing in a post a few days ago.

Icebreaker is lovely; you can wear it cycling or on other outdoor excursions, and it's equally smart under a jacket for work. In summer the superfine wool is cooler than a cotton t-shirt and much cooler than anything synthetic. It's great for holidays as it really doesn't pick up odours. I confess to trying this out last summer, wearing the same tshirt for a week. Before you recoil in horror, it didn't pong after seven days. It felt fresh each day when I put it on.

The price of all this perfection and adaptability is...the price. Icebreaker is expensive in anyone's language; you'll rarely find it on sale if you walk into adventure, ski or outdoor shops. At least any items you might actually like won't be on sale.

But I've never bought Icebreaker from a retail high street shop, shopping in person. I've bought my pieces online.

For Aussies, the best Icebreaker bargains are at  The Aussie dollar is strong against the Kiwi dollar, and this shop always has a wide range of Icebreaker and usually has something nice on special.

When international postage was somewhat cheaper last year and before I picked up a couple of Icebreaker pieces cheaply from BackCountry. Now, however, postage from North America has skyrocketed in cost. It's no longer a bargain and I'm better off buying from the Kiwis.

Moving on from Icebreaker, Australian and NZ catalogue shop Ezibuy carries a range of outdoor merino wear - Isobar. I 've bought two tops from them when they've been on sale. The first was of equal quality to Icebreaker, the second was *almost* there but not quite. The second item I bought was a heavyweight merino - ie 260gm - zip front sweater, and I picked up a similar item in Icebreaker in a different colour last summer and noticed the weave was not as tight nor the merino as fine in the Isobar. Isobar's base layer long-sleeved top, which was my first purchase, is excellent however.

Ezibuy also carries fine merino clothing for everyday wear. Admittedly the knit isn't as tight as the outdoor wear, and the $30 tunic I bought nearly two years ago has not held its shape as well as I thought. However, at least it's wool, and merino at that, and it's very reasonably priced on the whole. I also bought a couple of normal wear merino waist-length tops from Ezibuy and they have held their shape just fine.

Kathmandu outdoor clothing store had a sale on last month and I scored a pale mauve long-sleeved merino top for $60, down from an astonishing $149. The quality is there at first glance; I haven't worn the top yet but am saving it for next autumn or a really cool day (unlikely now before next autumn).

Piece by piece I'm getting rid of synthetic tops and where possible bottoms from my wardrobe and replacing them with natural products such as wool and cotton. Hence I troll the net for specials on merino and other wool.

Pure cashmere is out of my reach unless it's made in China and I do try and avoid clothes made in China if I can. (Sadly Icebreaker is now made in China as its sales have skyrocketed and the cost of producing the clothes in lovely NZ is now prohibitive.) There have been health scares with chemicals used in the production of cheap Chinese clothing - typically polycotton blend tops of the cheapest variety - with formaldehyde the main chemical culprit. It makes the clothes nice and crisp looking when they're on the rack but can cause severe reactions in the wearer.

But... I've now found an affordable site for Cashmere blends - Woolovers. The link is to the Aussie version of the site but it IS international with sites pertinent to the UK, US, Canada and NZ, and the prices are amazing. I've ordered a Cashmere/Merino cardigan from these guys and it's on the way to me as I write. Expect an update when I've received my cardigan - affordable cashmere! Oh joy! I can't find anywhere on the site saying the garments are made in China, so I do have some high hopes here.

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