Ben and Julian Earl in the Hedrena workshop in Geelong, Victoria.
A family business that began in 1992, the Geelong-based operation pioneered the next-to-skin base-layer market for fine Merino wool. Established by Hedley and Irena Earl, it is now Ben and brother Julian who have taken the reigns and are creating new possibilities beyond the market created by their parents.
The company arose at a time of crisis for the wool industry when fine woolgrowers Hedley and Irena chose to process and ultimately retail fine Merino wool blankets from their own fleece. Since these early days the Earl family have not only survived but thrived by producing a high quality base layer product that keeps people warm and dry.
These days the company, which is a Woolmark licensee, generates an annual turnover of approximately $4 million and has expanded the range significantly from its blanket making days.
Chief Operating Officer Ben Earl believes there is still significant growth in the domestic market.
“Next-to-skin products for women in their 40s and 50s have been the core of the business and this will continue, but we aim to reach all generations of people and attract more men to fine wool,” he said.
The advent of markets that merge sport and leisure have inspired the Earls to develop apparel that is a fusion of the outdoor market with fashion basics, to expand the reach and demographic of their client base.
“We want to introduce fine Merino wool to the next generation and I do enjoy breaking all the old perceptions about wool,” Ben said.
“Branching out into the sustainable lifestyle wear market won’t be easy as there is a lot of activity in and around this space with an ingrained perception that ‘Merino wool’ is expensive. My brother and I intend to break this apart. It’s a false economy because when you invest in a Hedrena basic it will last you many years. Most people will buy 10, 20, 30 other tops only to discard them after a season of wear. I am confident we offer a product that will hold its own. Supported by our sheep to shop experience and world class quality, it’s a powerful prospect.
“We still manufacture in Australia and I believe many people here are willing to pay a little more knowing 41 passionate Australian wool lovers, 2500 knitting needles and 12 stitches per inch have created the garment you see, touch and feel in store.
“We have never mass marketed and have grown organically based on word of mouth and it’s powerful to see our customers turn to one another and freely share their experience of wearing the Hedrena range with others.” The company has recently opened a new retail outlet with the launch of its Sustainable Lifestyle Wear store in St Ives, Sydney along with a major expansion into an online retail presence and the creation of the first Hedrena factory outlet in Geelong, Victoria.