Together with two subcontractors, city shepherd Martin Oosthoek herds 2,500 sheep in and around Rotterdam. Good for biodiversity. And for the local wool supply … you would think. Unfortunately, for years the Rotterdam wool was burnt because it did not yield anything. That changed, when Martin started talking to the council about it.
It was actually a casual remark that got the ball rolling. Martin was talking to a council official about the ins and outs of his herd. ‘I said that the grazing was going well, but that it was a shame that the wool was being thrown away,’ says the city shepherd. ‘Every year 5,000 kilos of wool just went into the incinerator. There had to be another way, right? The man agreed with me, because this did not fit in with the city’s circular ambitions.’
Martin was put in touch with the Green Streams transition director at the council. ‘She handled that very well and turned it into a special project: The Soft City. Designer Christien Meindertsma, who can make the most beautiful things out of wool, was asked to collaborate on this project.’ The designer brought all her knowledge of designing and producing with local wool to the project, as well as her love for the soft yet extremely strong material. She was allowed to indulge herself on a sea container with 5,000 kilos of Rotterdam sheep’s wool. Even though the material was labelled as waste wool, Christien was pleasantly surprised by the good quality.
‘Maybe one day I will walk in clothes from my own flock'
Apart from clothing, wool also has other circular applications. For instance, composite foam padding in cars and furniture could very well be replaced by wool in a much more environmentally friendly way. During her work for the project, Christien Meindertsma even invented something else. She discovered that you can machine felt 3D with wool without using water. This makes it possible to make larger objects, for instance to replace foam rubber. In addition, sheep wool can be used in products for air purification or insulation, as soil improver, design products made of felt or biobased building material for green roofs.
Martin is happy that something is now being done with the wool. ‘For example, I have seen a costume made of Rotterdam wool, which really doesn’t make you look foolish. Incredible what they can make with the wool of our sheep. It made me look at wool differently myself. When picking out sheep, I now pay more attention to their fleece. Whereas before I was mainly interested in a good grazing sheep with good flock behaviour. Maybe one day I will walk around in clothes from my own flock. Cool, right?’