What Is ZQ Merino? Exploring Animal Welfare

Flock of sheep
Sheep grazing – Image adapted from Pexels

As you may know already, Merino wool is one of the most sustainable and ethical clothing materials on the market. It’s renewable, biodegradable, and requires less care than other performance fabrics. But, the Merino itself is only one factor in its environmental profile. Specific wool certifications, like ZQ Merino, ensure that companies, farmers, and manufacturers are following sustainable and ethical practices.

Today, we’ll figure out precisely what is ZQ Merino. We’ll explore how this certification is ushering in a new era of sustainable changes in the Merino wool industry. Let’s go!


ZQ Merino Overview

ZQ Logo

ZQ is a wool certification standard that stands for a better quality of life.
 
For the animals, for our planet, our people, and you.

Discover ZQ Website

ZQ Merino provides a sustainable and ethical Merino production recipe in a world of differing business practices. Run by the New Zealand Merino Company, this certification is a recipe that puts people, animals, and the planet before profits.

The name ZQ itself stems from what the company calls the ‘Zen Balance’ between intelligence (IQ) and relationships (EQ). The IQ focuses on the technological and scientific advancements within agriculture. The EQ is about forming connections and relationships with people, animals, and the land.


Five Core ZQ Merino Values

To ensure that woolgrowers and apparel companies follow strict environmental practices, ZQ has listed five core values behind their brand. They are animal welfare, ecological sustainability, quality fiber, traceable to source, and social responsibility.

Each one of these values is audited by an independent 3rd-party to ensure compliance. Let’s take a more in-depth look into each aspect.

1. Animal Welfare

ZQ Merino understands that quality wool comes from happy sheep. So, the first step in the woolgrowing process focuses on animal welfare.

All of the sheep are considered free-range, and to ensure proper animal welfare, farmers must adhere to the Five Freedoms of the Flock.

ZQ Merino Five Freedoms of the Flock
Free From Thirst

Sheep should be free to live comfortably and forage within their habitat. The farmers must provide enough water and food for their flock. With proper nutrition, sheep can better withstand the sometimes harsh elements of the environment.

Free To Live Naturally

There should be enough roaming space for ZQ sheep. Typically, this is about one sheep per acre of land. With plenty of area, sheep can simply behave like sheep. They can then socialize with their flock and live naturally off the land.

Free From Discomfort

Sheep have an evolutionary ability to adapt to various weather conditions due to their protective fleece. Still, ZQ ensures that their sheep are free from stress. They require growers to provide sufficient shade and shelter for their flock.

Free From Distress

The ZQ Program bans any unnecessary animal stress (like mulesing or live transportation). The safety and comfort of the sheep always come first.

Free From Disease

A healthy flock is a happy flock.

Therefore, ZQ requires growers to regularly monitor their sheep for disease, illness, and other medical issues.

In addition, ZQ Merino is highly against the practice of mulesing. This is where skin is removed from a sheep’s buttocks to reduce the chances of flystrike. Also, they ensure that stress is reduced by prohibiting the live transportation of sheep. Thus, ZQ sheep are sheared where they live.


2. Environmental Sustainability

Next, ZQ Merino emphasizes the importance of maintaining a healthy environment and diverse ecosystem. Farmers and growers must take responsibility for sustaining their land and to “keep things green.” They do this by creating Land Management Programs.

Many woolgrowers tend to be passionate about conservation. They may even partake in small environmental projects in addition to the ZQ program. Some of these include ensuring local waterways are clean and native species are protected. Conserving the environment allows for better sustainability throughout the entire farm-to-fashion process.

To learn more about Merino wool’s environmental benefits and impacts, read our complete Merino Wool Sustainability Guide.


3. Quality Fiber

ZQ Merino Fiber Comparison

ZQ mentions on their website that ‘not all wool is created equal.’

One of their missions is to ensure their certified companies use only the highest-quality Merino in their products. Low-quality wool tends to have a wide distribution of fiber diameters, creating specific weak points within the fabric. Thus, decreasing the performance ability when it’s knitted into apparel. This low-quality wool can often be traced back to unnecessary hardship for the sheep themselves.

High-grade fibers start with healthy sheep. ZQ fibers have a high degree of uniformity, consistency, and quality. Thus, ensuring better-performing fabrics with longer closet lives. The ZQ philosophy is straightforward: happier sheep in a better-protected environment create more delicate, long-staple fibers.

Apart from the sheep producing the wool, ZQ handpicks the raw wool to ensure top quality. As a result, highly-skilled wool classers examine each fleece for criteria such as tensile strength, length, organic composition (similar to clean yield), fineness, prickle factor, and other factors.

Therefore, you know you are getting the best Merino wool on the market. It’s not just the scraps that are swept off the shearing floor.


4. Traceable To Source

Traceability is about understanding the entire Merino wool process, from the pasture to your closet. ZQ Merino wool gets harvested, tested, and distributed by a singular company. In contrast, traditional wool sales often lose ‘farm tracking’ after selling at auction. Thus, woolgrowers can connect with the brands creating products.

Not only does this process improve transparency and authenticity, but it gives woolgrowers a clearer picture of the types of products their wool is being used for. In fact, you can even trace ZQ garments to the same farm where the Merino was harvested. Pretty cool, right?

ZQ achieves this level of transparency and traceability through a ‘forward contract model.’ They create and nurture long-term relationships within every aspect of the Merino supply chain. These growers, distributors, suppliers, manufacturers, and clothing companies share the same ‘green’ values with the ZQ brand. They adhere to similar environmental standards, sustainable methods, and ethical practices. Therefore, you can have peace of mind with ZQ-certified products.

Every step of its production is held to the highest of standards.


5. Social Responsibility

ZQ Merino makes certain that the people behind the sheep are treated fairly. They genuinely care about the livelihood, health, and success of woolgrowers and their families. The community around Merino wool production is just as important as the product itself.

Throughout the entire Merino process, ZQ ensures their partners have a safe working environment and livable wage. They understand that the agricultural industry can often be volatile. So, through their forward contract model, they can offer better financial stability to their farmers.

To sum up, happy people are just as important as happy sheep.


ZQ Auditing Process

As you can imagine, holding woolgrowers to the highest standards is not easy work. To maintain its reputation as one of the top sustainable programs in the Merino world, ZQ requires audits on all of their farms every three years. As with any type of audit, if there is an issue during one of these check-ins, ZQ requires farmers to partake in more regular audits of their flock and facilities.

To uphold their integrity and eliminate any conflict of interest, ZQ uses accredited third-party auditors to carry out this process. One of the prominent companies they use on farms throughout New Zealand and Australia is AsureQuality. This auditor holds similar values to ZQ Merino and specializes in every aspect of the agricultural industry. Each year, they independently inspect over 15,000 livestock farms in the region.

While the auditing process itself may sound commonplace and even a bit mundane, it’s essential not only to ZQ’s image but to your satisfaction. By guaranteeing that each step of the woolgrowing process is up to par, you can be assured that your Merino products are crafted from the highest quality wool. They are dedicating the time and money to defend their sustainable message. All so you can make better decisions as the end consumer.


Woolgrowers of ZQ Merino

Map of Certified Wool Growers in New Zealand
To improve transparency, ZQ allows you to view the exact farming locations of their 400+ wool farmers. View more ‘On-Farm’ info on their website.

ZQ takes pride in their 400+ woolgrowers’ livelihood and life stories throughout New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa. They understand that it is the farmers who are on the frontlines that give Merino its luxurious properties. Using the forward contract model, they provide woolgrowers better financial stability. Thus, allowing them to focus on their flock’s health and happiness.

One significant aspect of that ZQ Merino stresses among their growers is continual education. They want their farmers to be up-to-date on the Merino industry’s latest technologies, information, and techniques. The ‘ZQ On-Farm‘ focus also teaches woolgrowers the best practices to grow Merino for specific market purposes.

ZQ-certified growers always follow the core values of the program. They are also subject to third-party audits, as previously mentioned. Suppose, for some reason, you’re a Merino farmer and want to become a ZQ-certified woolgrower. In that case, you can learn more about the certification process here.


ZQ Merino Brand Partners

Unlike typical Merino wool purchased at auction by the bail, ZQ Merino can only be purchased exclusively through the New Zealand Merino Company. This way, the validity and quality of the wool can be tested to the highest standard. Here are a few of our favorite Merino wool companies that source their fiber, yarn, and fabric from ZQ Merino.

Company TypeZQ Brand Partner (A-Z)
Outdoor Apparel & AccessoriesAclima, Arc’teryx, Armadillo, Firewire Wool Light, Fjallraven, Helly Hansen, Hestra Gloves, Icebreaker, Kaipara, Mons Royale, Smartwool, Truefleece
Lifestyle Fashion (Unisex)Beni, Ecologyst, Flippa K, Glowing Sky, John Smedley, Little Yellow Bird, Loro Piana, McDonald Textiles, Rewoolution, Swanndri, Untouched World
Men’s ClothingBarkers, Erdos, Hugo Boss, Joe Merino, Neem, Rembrandt, Rodd and Gunn
Women’s ClothingCatherine Hammel, Eileen Fisher, Kilt, Kowtow, Maggie Marilyn, Max, Yarn
Children’s ClothingChasing Windmills, Mokopuna, Nature Baby, Smalls Merino, Superlove Merino, Three Bags Full, Wee Woollies,
Socks & FootwearAllbirds, Glerups, Nooan
Home Decor & DesignAscend Rugs, Best Wool Carpets, Cavalier Bremworth, Plump and Co, T & R Interiors, Yolana
Fabric, Yarn, & Wool AccessoriesCharguers, Designer Textiles International, Manteco, Nikke, Nishikawa Textile, Reda, Suedwolle, The Fabric Store, Woolyarns,
* All ZQ brands listed as of January 2021. Subject to changes and additions.

Suppose your favorite Merino wool brand is not listed above. In that case, reach out to them to become a ZQ Merino partner. You can find more information about the application process here.


Merino Advancement With Studio ZQ

Studio ZQ in Christchurch
Studio ZQ in Christchurch, New Zealand – Image from ZQ Website

When it comes to brand partnerships, ZQ isn’t merely a supplier of high-quality Merino wool. They genuinely want companies to use the material’s ultimate potential.

Thus, they created Studio ZQ in Christchurch, New Zealand. Brands, growers, and marketers can collaborate to create future products in the industry.

They make new Merino wool products for various applications, often using advanced technology. Studio ZQ combines the knowledge and understanding of every person throughout the woolgrowing process.

Think of it like a wool industry ‘think tank’ where your favorite Merino products are born!


Final Note About ZQ Merino

Hopefully, we’ve answered your question: What is ZQ Merino?

They are a highly-regarded, accredited organization that ensures every aspect of the Merino wool process is performed sustainably and ethically. The sheep are happy. The farmers are happy.

Above all, they want you to be happy about every aspect of your Merino wool clothing.

As an end consumer, it’s your responsibility to ensure that your purchasing decisions match your values. ZQ Merino just offers a recipe for sustainability and ethical production within the wool industry. They provide a service that allows you to trust your Merino clothing’s authenticity.

Always do your research before purchasing any Merino wool clothing to ensure you are getting the best quality material while helping the planet out in the process. Although, you may not have the time to do all the research. So, feel free to check out our company profiles and product reviews here at Merino Wool Gear.

You can also follow us on Instagram to keep up-to-date with the latest news in the Merino world.

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