An organic farm in Tuam has found a unique way to use sheep wool in pillows, which are as light as clouds. He calls his innovative product the Woolow.
Often the most obvious answers are right in front of you and for one Galway farmer, the answer to his future was right there in his field. Michael Burke’s family has raised sheep on their family farm in Tuam for more than two decades now, and in recent years, the has diversified. Michael has retired from his “day-job” which was in healthcare and he has taken over the farm. He took decision to convert it into an organic operation, as he felt it was the best way of remaining sustainable into the future.
“I am passionate about sustainability, biodiversity and natural products,” Burke explained, continuing to say: “When I was a growing up, we raised sheep and honey bees. I used to help shear the sheep and my dad made me a pillow out of some of the wool from the sheep I sheared. It was the best pillow I ever had. I loved that pillow!”
His idea, is one which knits together his passions for both farming and healthcare. Michael sees it as his way of doing his part for the environment in the wake of climate change. To that end, the Woolow is completely biodegradable, and recyclable. It involves no plastics or synthetics in manufacturing or shipping. This is new method of putting an old resource, the wool from sheep, to a whole new use, in pillows. Each Woolow pillow is filled with soft wool from the farm in Tuam, and they are wrapped in a soft 300-thread cotton casing. They are generously filled and finished with a hand-stitched label. A Woolow pillow is as much a craft item as it is a product to enhance your day-to-day life.
Sheep’s wool is a natural fibre designed to breathe. This means it adjusts to your body temperature, keeping you warm in winter, and cool in summer. It regulates your body temperature, so you won’t overheat or get cold during the night. “Wool is a natural fiber that repels water, mould and mildew and dust mites can’t survive in wool,” explained Michael, continuing: “It’s hypo-allergenic which is great for anyone with asthma or allergies. And it adjusts to your body’s temperature so you don’t get too hot or too cold. It’s supportive but not stiff and it’s recyclable.” Scientific testing has demonstrated that dust mites cannot survive in wool, which is why natural wool has been internationally awarded Allergy Seal of Approval. Ideal for asthma and allergy sufferers, our wool pillows conform to international fire regulation standards and are chemical free. He calls his wool pillow the Woolow. Michael realised just how much such a pillow was needed during his career in healthcare, and this inspired him to produce the Woolow.
Burke spent years considering the Woolow, but it wasn’t until this past year that he met business developer Ciaran Sheridan. In under a year the duo has developed a prototype, found manufacturing partners in Dublin, and launched a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the business development. Currently, they’re offering two types of pillows, natural wool, and natural wool infused with lavender; which is said to promote restful sleep.
While using wool is an age-old idea, their marketing strategy is all modern. They don’t plan on having or using traditonal retail stores. Instead they plan to show off the pillows at selected environmentally-friendly home shows, and do business online. “It makes sense, it’s the future of business and it gives us a global marketplace,” Sheridan explained, continuing: “We will take the Woolows to shows and let people see them and feel them and get feedback. But we already know once you try a Woolow, you’ll never go back.”
The experience of Michael Burke is not uncommon nowadays, in order to see a future out of his farm, he has had to look at alternative methods of revenue generation. In doing so, he has been successful in starting a new, innovative business. More and more, young farmers in particular, will have to diversify and find a niche market to help sustain their farms. Now, this is perhaps not how it should be, but it is a reality of modern day living. No more can the income from the humble small farm raise a family.