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Reinventing Wool for the Bedroom

  • PHOTOGRAPHY Courtesy of Shleep
  • Discover Shleep: first-of-its-kind fine Australian Merino wool bed linen designed to create ‘a better waking life’.

    Australian Merino wool has long been heralded as a natural, hypoallergenic, breathable and biodegradable fibre, synonymous with high and slow fashion. But as entrepreneur Indi McCullough points out this luxurious fibre had not been considered for interiors, particularly bedlinen, in the same way. 

    Coupled with the research that proves we fall asleep faster and enjoy a better quality sleep surrounded by wool, Indi set out to take what was perceived as a “scratchy and uncontemporary” fibre to create innovative new fabrics. Cue Shleep: the first premium, fine Australian Merino wool bed linen made from ShleepHalo™, founded on the principle that a great night’s sleep can change your life. 

    In this interview, we speak with Indi about the beginnings of Shleep and her exclusive fabrics, the surprising benefits of sleeping on wool and why – contrary to popular belief – it’s optimal in the summer months. 

    Produced in partnership with Shleep

    Please take us back to the beginning of Shleep. Where did the idea come from?

    Indi McCullough: My background is in branding and running agencies, working predominantly in the US. I knew I always wanted to have my brand, and I have a long-standing interest in sustainability and interiors.

    Twelve years ago, I met my husband (an Australian), who was running the Woolmark Company in the US. He educated me on wool. I had only assumed wool to be scratchy and uncontemporary. I didn’t know about any of the performance elements. I thought wool was all the same, and I never saw it as a luxury fibre.

    Then I was introduced to the innovation that was happening in wool fabric and, at the same time, learned the research about wool improving sleep quality. That being people fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer – in a deep sleep – surrounded by wool. I immediately thought – ‘I can’t think of anything worse’ – because I perceived it as an itchy and uncomfortable fabric. 

    At that moment in time, I was researching the trends of wellness and sustainability. In particular, sleep health, where a lot of dialogue was centred around sleep and productivity. I saw these intercepting trends and a natural fibre that no one had thought about innovating within the space. It was an a-ha moment. 

     How did you take Shleep from an idea to where it is today?

    Indi McCullough: In high fashion, they use the finest quality Australian wool and through innovation, now athleisure. But no one was doing that in bedding. When the pandemic hit, it became clearer that there was a demand for green, natural and anti-bacterial bedlinen. It felt like we’d uncovered a whole new category. 

    When I started, I had the marketing right, but I didn’t have the product innovation right. I wanted to prove that wool was not itchy or scratchy against the skin, and to make a premium wool bed linen fabric. I couldn’t find the right manufacturer – this took years because the technology hadn’t been invented. I went through Italy and South Korea and finally found a manufacturer with the same passion and ambition. We are now business partners in inventing fabrics. 

    I also didn’t want to be known just for bedding. That’s why we’re ‘makers of the best mornings ever’ and, by extension, ‘a better waking life’. While sleep is so important, you also have the lead-up to sleep and the wake-up period. I want to explore wool as a fibre through products associated with these rituals, such as yoga mats, curtains, and aroma therapy. 

    The finest quality Australian Merino wool is at the heart of Shleep. What are the key health benefits of wool and in particular, your fabrics?

    Indi McCullough: In order to get a night of good sleep, the most important thing is temperature management. If you’re too hot or too cold, this ultimately disrupts your sleep. And if you sweat, other natural fabrics can absorb this and become damp. The great thing about wool is that it’s breathable and it reacts to temperature – your body temperature is always regulated no matter the season or environment. We’ve solved temperature regulation not only through the fibre but through fabric innovation and offering sleep systems – so you’re surrounded by wool. This is particularly relevant as the ability to regulate body temperature decreases with age. Research has also proven that wool encourages restorative sleep by promoting circulation. 

    Because of the nature of the fibre, wool is also antibacterial and hypoallergenic. Likewise, it’s stain and odour resistant. When considering the health of the planet, wool is also biodegradable.

    Are there any surprising or unexpected benefits of your products that people may not know about?

    Indi McCullough: Most people think you can’t wash wool. We’ve spent a lot of time exploring that wool can be machine washed at a specific temperature to ensure it lasts a long time. Our fleece products have a brush that allows you to fluff up and separate the wool. It’s all about care.

    Exploring wool jersey, it’s low maintenance, anti-static (attracting less dust or lint) and wrinkle-free – which means you don’t have to iron it.

    As we are coming into summer in the southern hemisphere, there is a misconception that wool is only for winter bedding. Why is wool optimal year-round – and particularly in the warmer months?

    Indi McCullough: The misconceptions around wool are shaped by how wool was conventionally used. One story I often tell is when I first arrived in Australia, I was at a mill, and I couldn’t get my head around wool for summer. The man I spoke to pulled out a photograph of soldiers in the second world war in the desert wearing wool head to toe. Back then, he said, they understood that wool was the most comfortable fabric for the desert’s extreme temperatures – and it was sun resistant. 

    In the Middle East, the Bedouins are also dressed in black wool garments – a tradition that has passed through centuries – proving that wool is the optimal fabric in such hot conditions. 

    What makes Australian fine Merino wool the best in the world? 

    Indi McCullough: Micron is the diameter of the fibre; the lower the micron number, the finer the wool. A single fine human hair is 100 microns, and Australian Merino wool is typically 24 or less, but I don’t use anything higher than 17.5. Wool is a luxury fibre – and you need to use the best. It’s no secret the finest fashion apparel uses the finest quality Australian Merino wool. 

    I work with a wool broker to source the finest quality Australian wool. However, when it comes to sustainability, my longer-term commitment is to source from a collective of farms and work with them directly to set standards of what we want to achieve together.

    “The great thing about wool is that it’s breathable and it reacts to temperature – your body temperature is always regulated no matter the season or environment. We’ve solved temperature regulation not only through the fibre but through fabric innovation and offering sleep systems – so you’re surrounded by wool.”

     

    – Indi McCullough

    You offer a range of exclusive fabrics that are original to Shleep. How long did it take to develop, innovate and evolve these to achieve distinct softness and durability?

    Indi McCullough: I have two great manufacturers who I work with. The latest one really helped me to invent bed linen. He had already been thinking of this – but there was no brand willing to take the idea up. He was developing the fabric for fashion, so I suggested we bring it straight into the home. 

    This involved completely new machinery. We wanted to try different weaves and knitting techniques, and to blend the fibre with bamboo and Tencel. We are currently experimenting with other blends – with the largest percentage being wool. 

    Our original and exclusive ShleepHalo™ fabrics are incredibly soft and easy-care. They build on the existing health benefits of wool through technical knitting and weaving that enhances breathability, and thermal and moisture regulation. Our ShleepHalo™ finest merino Luxury Knitted Fleece is the only natural, eco-friendly fleece that’s knitted (not woven) from the finest Merino fibre with spun silk and cotton thread. 

    Our Luxury Merino Jersey is made from 70 per cent Australian Merino (17.5 micron) and blended with bamboo, while our Premium Merino Jersey fabric is made from 60 per cent fine Australian merino wool (19.5 micron) blended with 40 per cent Tencel®. 

    What’s one of your proudest collaborations to date?

    Indi McCullough: Our sleep/ loungewear range is set to launch in early 2023, designed in collaboration with Marcia Patmos, an International Woolmark Prize winner in 2015. We sought her out for her talent, innovation and creativity in eco-fashion, and fine Australian Merino wool expertise. She will launch and sell the Shleep brand and sleep/loungewear in her popular store in Brooklyn, NY, USA.

    We are also working with stylists and interior designers on residential design photoshoots. We are also open to working with interior designers and stylists on any new ideas they may have. 

    What’s next for Shleep?

    Indi McCullough: We’ve established ourselves in Australia, but are exploring distributors and retailers in China, Europe, Middle East, America and Canada.

    Indi McCullough

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