When supply limits demand.

I was very saddened to hear that Needlefood will close its doors in September 2010.

Needlefood is one of New Zealand’s indie dyers of sock (4 ply) and worsted (10 ply) weight yarns.  Michelle’s yarns are vibrant, and beautiful, and very good quality.  I got these recently, but I’m going to have to get more, as soon there will be no more.

What’s saddened me the most is to know that the main reason for the closure is because Needlefood has lost its source of yarn: the mill that Michelle has been using is closing.

The mill in question is Agresearch’s development mill at Lincoln.  Agresearch is New Zealand’s largest Crown Research Institute, devoted to developing innovation in agriculture and boosting the productivity of New Zealand’s bio-dependent economy.  The news of the downsizing of various sectors of this organisation was quietly announced in April, but one can now see one of the direct results of this decision.  I guess the New Zealand Government has decided that wool just isn’t the way to go.  This is extraordinary, on so many levels.

From a knitter’s and avid supporter of New Zealand yarns point of view, this is frustration beyond words.  The yarn industry is small.  It’s not big business in a large scale.  But the current regime’s focus on maximising returns is quite short-sighted and I do not believe it to be in the interests of the sustainability of New Zealand’s economy in the long term. 

New Zealanders have always been known as innovators, and the place where small is actually a good thing in the development of quality product that turns out to lead the pack.  Some physical examples:  Weta Workshop.  Comvita.  Icebreaker.  Hubbards.  All of these businesses started small.  Some of them have grown to be very big indeed.  But I get the sense that the incubation of small is no longer being encouraged when I hear about closures like this. 

In the yarn industry in particular, there is actually huge potential.  The knitting scene in New Zealand still has a way to go before it catches up what’s happening overseas.  But like all good export products, our yarns aren’t limited by the domestic market.  They are sought after overseas, and fast growing in popularity, and for that reason it would be fantastic to see continued support for small, growing yarn businesses that need a leg-up to get going. 

I now know of three separate cases where a yarn company would like to produce quality yarn that is not your ‘bog standard’.  In one instance – Needlefood’s – it’s sock yarn and worsted weight yarn.  In another case, it’s chunky weight.  In another case, it’s DK, but it’s to be a luxury DK spin.  None of these appear to be able to find a suitable manufacturer in New Zealand to produce the yarn at pricing that they can afford as small start-ups.  Product that is actually destined for an export market, where the sale is made on the basis that it’s “Made in New Zealand”.  The Lincoln mill filled a niche that enabled small producers to get their start.  

I was talking to one of the larger mills earlier this year, and the person there mentioned the closure of another small mill that had quite a number of displaced small clients asking if they could have their fleece processed by him instead.  But this particular mill is only set up to process large quantities, and was regretfully unable to help.  There’s now one less.

On an ‘optimistic’ note, I understand that there’s a pile of state-of-the-art spinning machinery going for probably the price of a song… someone in the spinning industry should surely be interested in picking it up and therefore increasing the range of yarn they are able to produce???  Hint, hint.

Anyway, a rather depressing post today.  I had rather hoped that the Global Financial Crisis would reinvigorate the value of small.  But all it seems to have done is produce a greater focus than ever on maximum and quick returns.  How sad.

12 thoughts on “When supply limits demand.

  1. It really is a pity about Agresearch’s closure. I do wish that our Government was prepared to keep funding them, research into the uses of wool, especially Merino is so important! Admittedly if I want Worsted weight yarn I can spin it myself, but sometimes I like to use ready-spun yarns. I’d been thinking about trying out Michelle’s Worsted weight, but unfortunately it won’t be in the budget before she closes down.

    1. Pity us poor knitters who don’t spin! The ways things are going, I’m sadly wondering if we want “Made in New Zealand” in future that we will have to spin it ourselves!!!

      1. My understanding is that this is exactly what did happen earlier last century in NZ, round the time of the Depression and Wars … There were huge yarn shortages and some NZ women took up spinning with a vengeance.

        I think we’re all going to have to do a whole lot of readjusting to acclimatise to the changing economy (disclaimer – I have a pretty doomy view of where it’s all going!) …

        I do think though that – long term – small businesses and artisan producers have the skills and adaptability that will be absolutely vital further down the track … It’s just going to be a bit tough to get through the next little while and keep going in the interim. We need some new strategies.

      2. oh! I should add – when I say we need new strategies, I’m speaking as a small business person in quite a different field … (I can only daydream of having a crafting business at this point!) I do see this as applying quite widely though …

  2. another great post! The loss of AgReasearch’s mill at Lincoln also affected me – I was so excited at the unlimited potential of what they could supply, and in small quantities.

    The saddest part of it all is that all the bigger mills not only can’t produce small orders, they also often outsource some part, if not all, of the processing overseas.

    The most important part is of course using NZ produced wool, but the fact is travel before we can do anything more with it…such a shame!

    1. Thanks Tash. I was worried they might have affected you too, and that’s very sad to know that it has. I only hope it hasn’t affected your business model too much. I totally agree – “Made in New Zealand” is key to a successful product, and it’s quite terrible that we are quietly being forced into using overseas processors when it’s totally unnecessary, and actually, quite dangerous to the supply chain to do so.

  3. That saddens me even though I would not be a buyer of woollen yarns. I’m just in favour of NZ producing stuff of NZ, and frustrated that the best NZ produce goes straight overseas so that we locals never see it and have to put up with paying premium prices for lesser quality product.

  4. Sorry to hear about the mill’s and Needlefood’s closure. I’ve been very happy with my Needlefood sock yarns.

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