Weaved together by wool, Sally Jackson, Michelle Hand and Katja Jepsen are determined to deliver on their dream to see more beautiful woollen products in homes across Australia. A farmer’s daughter, born and bred city girl and Danish ex-pat respectively, you could be forgiven for thinking the girls form an unlikely trio; and, in many respects they do! It’s not often a digital media and advertising specialist, family counsellor and logistics coordinator would cross paths, let alone join forces. However, their ability to effectively utilise their different areas of expertise and backgrounds is true testament to the unbridled passion driving their startup, United by Wool – a one stop shop supplying stylish, quality woollen products.
Stretching from Geelong to the Macedon Ranges, and juggling motherhood to five children between them, the trio are rapidly approaching their first anniversary in business; no easy feat! Undoubtedly their success can be credited to doing what they know best. As wives to wool buying and exporting husbands, it’s safe to say the twists and turns of the Australian wool industry are often thrown across the table for consideration. Thoroughly informed, their knowledge and foundation in wool is as strong as the fibre they love so dearly. Which is why these ladies, each devoted mothers, are expertly placed to make product selections for the modern household. United by Wool specializes in women’s, children and baby’s fashion; something Sally, Michelle and Katja know best! Sourcing effortlessly stylish pieces for the modern woman and versatile, long lasting pieces for the little people in your life, you too can be “wrapped” with wool!
Ladies, you’re “United by Wool” quite literally as your husbands share a wool exporting company, what motivated your decision to launch your own retail operation?
We have all found it hard at various times to source woollen products especially for babies and children. We wanted there to be a dedicated place to find such products and to show people that wool has evolved so much, from when it was mainly thick, itchy, daggy jumpers, that you only wore because they kept you warm – hence ‘United By Wool’ was born.
Wool has evolved rather remarkably from the itchy jumpers grandma used to make. Your business is as much about educating consumers about the fibre as it is about selling quality products. What are some of the most common wool myths you’re hoping to bust for consumers?
Sally: That wool is itchy!! Technology has come a long way and the process of creating woollen knits is far superior than it used to be.
Michelle: That you can’t find fashionable, modern, age appropriate woollen products. This is why we are loving the brands we have found, especially for women, with ‘Smitten’ and ‘Bow and Arrow.’
Katja: That wool is high maintenance which, especially when it comes to kids clothes, would steer people away from buying it.
Sally: I agree! This is why we have tried to select items that are easy to care for and machine washable. Being a natural fibre, wool products breathe so they should need less washing than other types of garments. Although we always recommend reading the care label on the garment before washing.
Michelle: Also, wool can be worn in every season not just the winter months!
How has your role as mums influenced the labels you’ve decided to stock?
Sally: Sustainable and ethically sourced, easy caring and practical items that can be handed on to another wearer were my main considerations.
Michelle: For me, sourcing gorgeously functional products for when my children were tiny babies keeping them warm and helping to moderate their body temperatures - especially in the depth of winter and then choosing items which would be hardwearing for active young boys.
Katja: The labels we stock are all labels that I can see myself buying for my own son. Labels that are fun and fashionable, and which use a great quality of wool that is soft and gentle on young skin. Having been very environmentally and animal welfare conscious when shopping for groceries, but not so much when it came to apparel, the birth of my son prompted a change. I started buying a lot of organic clothes for him to ensure that he wasn’t exposed to too many chemicals on his body. We choose to stock ‘Roots and Wings’ due to the beautiful quality, and to give our customer an option to buy organic.
What is your favourite piece from the collection of woollen goods?
Sally: The woollen singlets and bodysuits - when my girls were little I couldn’t find any!
Michelle: I love all the brands we have sourced, they are all beautiful, so it is very tricky to choose one piece. I do love the ponchos from ‘Smitten’ - the ease of being able to throw it on and look fantastic.
Katja: In fear of sounding like a cliché, I simply can’t pick one piece. I have bought several items for my son and I already love all of them. The kids and women’s jumpers with patches from ‘Bow and Arrow’, are just gorgeous. I love the versatility of ‘Le Edits’ grey jumper, the stripy socks from ‘Roots and Wings’ and the long sleeve T-shirts and jumpsuits from ‘WHEAT’.
Running a small business is no walk in the park. What individual skill sets do you bring to the table to ensure you’re as efficient as possible?
Sally: We are three busy mums, with other jobs and commitments. Our very different skill sets complement each other and help share the work load.
Michelle: I believe we are all individuals bringing a vast array of diverse knowledge which helps support the uniqueness of what we are growing.
Katja: We all have skills that complement each other really well, and we are able to draw on each individual’s experiences. Setting up a new business is not an easy task, and I am very grateful that I have two amazing business partners who are always there to help whenever I reach out.
What does a typical day in the life of United by Wool look like?
There hasn’t been one that typical yet, we are on a steep learning curve! Due to busy schedules and not all living in the same area a lot of our business is conducted on email, Skype and text messages.
Randomly, if you could have one superpower, what would it be and how would you use it?
Sally: I’d slow down how quickly my girls are growing up. It only seems like yesterday that they were babies.
Michelle: If I could, I’d wave a magic wand to ease all the pain and suffering around the world and bring in peace, love, kindness and harmony for all creatures great and small.
Katja: My superpower should be a magic wand I could swing to make consumers more conscious of the environment and animal welfare.
Name three inspirational women you admire and why.
Sally: My mum. She worked very hard off the farm in the local vineyards when I was a kid. Rain, hail or shine she went to work and did it for 15 years while my brothers and I were educated. I appreciate how hard it was because I also worked in the vineyards every holidays while I was at uni.
Michelle: My Mum and two Sisters. Each have had their fair share of diverse life changing challenges and each has faced them with strength, courage and grace with an inspiring attitude of hope and belief in tomorrow as a new day, a new opportunity. They’ve made the most of each situation and always explored how to grow and manage themselves the best possible way through the circumstances they are presented with. My Mum and two sisters have taught me that choosing love and having a warm open heart is the greatest healer of all!
- My mum. After becoming a mother myself, I have really come to understand and appreciate everything she has done for me, and all the love and care I am given. My mum worked a full-time job my whole childhood, and also juggled a role as a sole parent at stages of my life, due to my dad working abroad. All this taken into consideration, I am not quite sure how she still managed to be a great mum for my brother and I.
- My grandmother. I couldn’t possibly have asked for a more loving, kindhearted, caring and beautiful grandmother. I hope one day that I will be as wonderful a grandmother as she is to me.
- My auntie. She is an amazing person and an admirable business woman. I admire her strength and her determination, but also her vulnerability and soft heart. She has always been there if I needed someone to talk to.
What words of wisdom do you live by and would like to share with fellow women about to embark on a new journey?
Sally: Give it a go because you will always wonder if you don’t. Nobody is perfect, and mistakes happen. Learn from them and move on and try and do things better next time.
Michelle: Every challenge you face is character building; you can choose how you wish to respond. Challenges help us to be resilient, to learn and grow each time - not always easy, but an opportunity. Also to trust your intuition, it will always have your back.
Katja: Follow your dreams, even if it means stepping out of your comfort zone. Always go with your gut feeling and don’t take the first and best option. If something doesn’t feel right it often isn’t.
What other items can we expect to see in store?
Watch this space; the possibilities are endless and exciting…
If you'd like to wrap yourself and family in some luxuriously soft woollen threads this winter and beyond, use the discount code "Wattle15" to grab 15% off (excluding sale items). The offer is valid for the month of May and can be redeemed once per reader.