A brief chat with Chocolate Fish Merino Wool Clothing

I’ve been having a nice chat with Amanda from Merino wool clothing firm, Chocolate Fish. And it’s proved to be very enlightening – on many levels.

They’re a company based in Leeds who produce their own label superfine Merino wool products for professionals working from Antarctica to the Arctic, from Africa to Nepal as well as walkers, backpackers, bikers, fell runners and more.

With three generations of family in the business, their knowledge and enthusiasm for all things wool is not only second to none but extremely infectious. Passionate is an understatement to how they feel about their products and customer service.

So, are they a firm to take note of for us outdoorsey types?

Most definitely.

Here’s what Amanda had to say about the firm and industry in general:

I could bore you to Olympic standard Gold medal on the subject of wool, merino, ethical manufacture, Chinese fakery, the environment. So don’t get me started – I’m dreadful!  Even my partners tell me to shut up – either that or they shrink in embarrassment.

We think that the first reason our gear is so great is that our own-label range of superfine Merino wool clothing is made for us by New Zealand’s leading manufacturing company in this field, Soma-President Ltd. Their expertise is second-to-none and have been producing merino baselayer, underwear and clothing for three generations.

They were also one of Icebreaker’s leading manufacturers before all Icebreaker production moved to China. The second reason our gear is so great is that we source our fabric from the acknowledged world leader for high performance double-knit jersey merino, Designer Textiles, based in Auckland.

These two companies combined with our simple, versatile designs, make our merino outdoor clothing the best there is.

We also sell ONLY Merino (apart from the merino that’s got a bit of possum in it). We really are the Merino Experts. A long family association with sheep, the wool trade, and knowledge of the UK garment industry (when we still had one), added to the expertise of Soma-President and Designer Textiles puts our gear right at the top when it comes to quality. So if you want:

  • Top quality, versatile, high performance merino outdoor gear
  • Made ethically in working conditions that are civilized and open to scrutiny
  • By people who are the world’s best, not merely the world’s cheapest
  • Under enivironmental standards that are amongst the toughest in the world and where 70% of power is generated using renewable energy.
  • From wool that is guaranteed to be from sheep raised to the highest animal welfare standards, which inlcudes a non-mulesing policy

There are companies or course who have their gear made in China and claim their stuff is made ethically and environmentally-friendly !

However, almost all electricity  in China is generated by coal-powered fired power stations and dirty ones at that, and the coal used comes from the most dangerous mines in the world.  We don’t know how many miners are killed each month, let alone each year, as the Chinese govt. don’t release the figures.  

All we have are reports from the locals to tell us what’s happened.  Then there’s the massive pollution of the rivers, lakes and water table from all the heavy metals, dyes, and other nasty chemicals the factories pour out. 

The fact is that no none-Chinese is allowed to own more than 40% of a company there.  So no foreigner has control and the Chinese owners will only tell them what they want to hear.

The other problem with China is quality.  The workforces are replaced ever year with new workers, so for several months of the year stuff is being made by people who are still being trained!  The Financial Times reported only recently that Chinese manufacturing costs were rising as steeply as their quality standards were falling!

Of course companies who get their stuff made in China – which is just about all of them are unlikely to admit any of this!

Then there’s the problem of the merino source.  According to the wool people in Oz and NZ there aren’t enough merino sheep producing superfine fleece in Australia, New Zealand and China combined to supply all that’s coming out of China labelled merino.  

They believe  that the Chinese are chemically treating ordinary wool to make it feel, ostensibly, like merino.  It won’t actually perform like merino, but only someone who’d felt the real thing would know straightaway it wasn’t right.  

So lots of people are being conned.   It’s sad, but anyone who buys merino and finds it feels itchy and harsh has probably bought some of this fake stuff and consequently they’re put off buying merino again.

Merino, especially Superfine Merino, should really get product protection status, and the growers should be pursuing that – but these are the guys (inc. the Wool Marketing boards) who’ve allowed the synthetics manufacturers to get away with calling recycled pet bottles “Fleece”!  Madness!    Campaign for Real Fleece – if it didn’t go “baa” it’s not Fleece!  Demand the Real Thing!!!

Well, I certainly found all this enlightening and I’m not the only one. Blogger PTC* is a big fan of their products. You can read some of his thoughts on their gear here.

I’ve not heard of them until very recently – shame considering. I like to support British businesses, especially in the current climate and as far as outdoor gear goes.

In the meantime, I’ll be giving a baselayer a whirl from Chocolate Fish. I have to admit, on first touch it doesn’t feel like the Icebreaker tops I’m used to feeling. It feels like silk – real smooth – much better. There’s a nice stretch to it – not too clingy. It’s just right and it’s worth noting I’m not super skinny thin, either!

We’ll see how it goes – the proof’s in the pudding they say. I’ll be flinging the top on for my next trip which begins at the weekend…


6 Comments Add yours

  1. Chris says:

    Nice article Terry!
    My children bought me a Merino Wool buff which was very thoughtful of them! I didn't have the heart to tell them it wasn't genuine Merino though 😦
    This article has encouraged me to contact Chocolate Fish Merino Wool after following them on Twitter for a while.


  2. terrybnd says:

    Hi Chris,

    Yep – there's a lot of info in there. Amandas enthusiasm and passion is infectious. But as with many things in life – it certainly opens your eyes, eh?

    And I have to say – the top I'm using from them? Very very nice. It feels (when worn) for a while in a different league of it's own.

    I'm gobsmacked at it, really. The big 'con' if you know what I mean.

    Food for thought, eh?


  3. Amanda says:

    This should teach me to enter into email conversations with strange men with blogs 🙂 Seriously – so pleased that our gear is doing what it should – and apologies for tendency to bore people rigid on the subject of the woolly stuff.


  4. The stuff I've bought from Chocolate Fish has always been really good.

    Interesting to hear about the fakery. I had a base layer from Ortovox which was unbearably itchy. I've chucked it so I can't check where it was made.

    I do wonder whether we should all be a lot more careful about buying from China given its track record on pollution and human rights. Not always easy though.


  5. terrybnd says:

    Hi Robin, It is very much food for thought. And not always easy as you say. I only heard about Chocolate Fish recently (I'm embarrassed to say), if I'm honest. Namely because I've not been after any baselayers.

    I can say, that I have asked other gear companies before about where they source their down and where the kit is manufactured. And without naming names – some are more honest than others. And one in particular is always endeavouring to source the best and more ethical (as possible) materials.

    I might ask them to contribute their thoughts and opinions actually – but that will have to wait. I'm off to the Peaks for a few days now….


  6. Anonymous says:

    Great find Terry.. Btw do you know about the high fashion brand John Smedley being from matlock ? (Lee Bridge)

    They've been producing fine knitware for over 200 years on site,as worn by the rich and famous all over the world. Best bit is not many people know-there's a factory shop at the site and it's often a third off the shop price! Propper English stuff mate.

    Don't be put off by some of the weird colours on the website 🙂 http://www.johnsmedley.com/uk/mens/mens-merino-jerseywear


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