Sustainability Lesson: How to Rescue 2.75 Tons of Merino Wool Scraps

You’ve heard the Cairn Crew extol the virtues of Merino wool as a foundation of outdoor apparel in the past, and it’s for very good reason. From socks and undergarments to layers of all variety, Merino is a fabric we encourage for use all year long.

Layering Merino on Merino further amplifies the technical benefits of this natural fiber. That, along with Smartwool’s longtime emphasis on using sustainable materials and practices, made their Merino Baselayer and Smartloft Midlayer the perfect selections for Cairn’s Winter Obsidian Collection, curated around the theme of “Sustainable Warmth.”

Before we get to the headline of this story, let us give you a quick rundown of the benefits of layering Merino on Merino.

  • Helps regulate body temperature: The bends in Merino wool make it naturally insulating yet breathable to keep you warm without making you feel clammy.
  • Allows sweat to quickly escape as vapor: Merino transports sweat away as a vapor, keeping you dry and warm.
  • Resists odor: Because of the breathability of Merino, sweat and bacteria don’t get a chance to stick around and thrive – keeping odors at bay.

Smartwool Layering

So, if Merino wool is this amazing, how is it that Smartwool was able to find 2.75 tons of it that needed to be rescued from the cutting room floor? The answer goes back a couple of years as Smartwool Apparel Development Director Paige Fink was touring their baselayer factory. While walking from one area of the facility to another, she noticed bags brimming with factory floor scraps of Merino 250 baselayer fabric. No matter how efficient production processes become, scraps are inevitable.

When Paige saw the scale of these bags stuffed full of precious Merino wool, she was inspired to act. She immediately began brainstorming with the Smartwool manufacturing facility partners to create a more sustainable process that reduced waste and maximized materials. They decided that the scraps would be used in Smartwool’s Smartloft insulation.

To use these scraps in their insulation, Smartwool partnered with the factory to create a recycling facility on their existing campus. This lets them efficiently reduce waste on site— which, in turn, gives other brands that use the facility direct access to sustainable practices that may not have been available to them before. There, the scraps are ground into little pieces and pressed into varying weights of insulation. Smartwool now uses the recycled Merino inside all of its Smartloft midlayers, like the Smartloft Jacket featured in Cairn’s Winter Obsidian Collection.

“It took two years for it to go from bags of scraps to recycled materials, but this truly was a win-win for everyone involved. We repurposed excess waste while still creating a product that was not only as good as our older version of Smartloft, but performed even better and has a higher loft. And the factory we worked with is super proud to have found a way to create better practices that will lessen their impact on the environment,” shares Paige.


The Smartwool Merino 250 baselayers are already made with 100% sustainably sourced ZQ-certified Merino wool, but now that their scraps are being incorporated into Smartloft insulation, they will leave even less impact on the environment. This season, Smartwool had enough scraps from their baselayers to fill all of their Smartloft jackets for 2018—saving 2.75 of Merino from the cutting room floor.

We’ve said it once and we’ll say it again…the folks at Smartwool truly live up to the name.