Founder Interview — Sheep Inc, Pioneering the Future with Regenerative Wool

Sheep Inc.
Pioneering the Future with Regenerative Wool

In the unrelenting world of fashion, the art is as much product as the garment, with statement pieces making even more frequent appearances than the rain does in Manchester.

However, of late the conversation has been changing with—rain in Manchester aside—drastic climate change bringing a renewed urgency to change our habits. Afterall, while fashion is a necessity in its base form, similar to the way we buy art many of our purchases are for storytelling purposes, curating our visual personas in a tangible way.  

The result of this is a renewed storytelling essence to the space, a return to times where a garment’s story—and ethics—were as important as the garment itself. Enter Sheep Inc, a knitwear brand at the forefront of the regenerative farming movement.

Favouring a data led approach, co-founders Michael Wessely and Edzard van der Wyck, spent 2 years prior to their launch in 2019 identifying farms whose innovative approach to biodiversity and land management worked towards rejuvenating the soil, and hence the environment. The result, a product that is not only Carbon Neutral, but Carbon Negative, having an average impact of minus 14kg of CO2e per kg wool. Very, very impressive.

As I virtually sat down with Sheep Inc Co-Founder Edzard van der Wyck, we began our conversation by pondering the journey of an entrepreneur, the realities of engaging in everyday activities proving challenging, especially while trying to build a company that reframes the mindset of the entire fashion industry.

“I really want to be in the moment, but I’ll be barbequing and at the same time acutely aware that I’ve got so much happening on my phone in my pocket. You’re discussing Spiderman and at the same time wondering if that email has gone out.”

A battle many a modern businessman—and woman—can relate to, one being Edzard’s wife Julia, a film producer, while running her own company at the same time. A veritable household of entrepreneurs.

“You can make it work, it’s just a lot. There are definitely moments when you get five minutes to yourself and you’re like, ‘What is this…?’”

A seasoned veteran, Sheep Inc isn’t Edzard’s entrepreneurial debut, having Co-founded the highly successful shapewear brand Heist and before that creating content for high-end fashion brands under the tutelage of famed film director Chris Cunningham. But one question kept coming back to me: why the pivot to knitwear and why specifically wool?

“It was while growing our business [Heist] I started to get real, first-hand insights into fashion’s impacts on the environment and to get very passionate about how to bring a truly disruptive proposition to market, one that would look at all the issues the fashion industry is currently causing the world and try—to hopefully—address most of them by doing things very, very differently. The joy at that point for Michael and myself was that compared to any legacy brands we really started with a blank sheet of paper going, “Okay, what can we do? What should we do?” and built everything with a real ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) focus; we built the whole business from the ground up, taking that into account. We didn’t have legacy issues that we were trying to change or anything like that, it really was starting afresh. What does this look like and how do you get, not only a best-in-class product, but a best-in-class Sustainable Innovation proposition? How do you use technology in a way that’s modern and smart? How do you address the many issues in the fashion space, such as transparency, carbon impact, lack of consumer education, and to try to put that all together into one big package?”

The Wave Collection SS ’24 — Sheep Inc

No small challenge as fashion can be a fickle beast, with savvy consumers wary of disingenuity and yet expectant of quality. One key difference between Sheep Inc and Heist from the off is that Edzard and Michael are also the customers, giving them insights and a relatability to potential customers in a way that wasn’t possible with Edzard’s past venture.

“With Heist I’d been selling women’s underwear for quite a few years, and so I knew that whatever product I had to sell next, I had to be passionate about. It was very hard, even though I believed very strongly in the business. At Heist it was actually a very complicated business to be a founder of because inherently you don’t wear the products, so there’s always this kind of disconnect. With Sheep Inc it was very much a case of wanting to have a product that, again, I was incredibly passionate about. It was also an interesting product to go to market with, in the sense that there was a place in everybody’s wardrobe for the product we created—so knitwear became a focal point. It’s a huge market, but what’s really great about it is that you can also be kind of a specialist in knitwear, and still have a bunch of products that you can release underneath it. You can do a sweater like I’m wearing, you can do t-shirts, you can do trousers you can do shoes, there are many different categories that you can address under the knitwear moniker.”

During our interview, Edzard was wearing a multi pastel-coloured crew neck jumper from their aptly named SS24 “Waves” Collection. This new collection carries on where past left off, adding bold shapes and colours to the luxurious merino wool knitwear. He expounds on their novel approach:

The Wave Collection SS ’24 — Sheep Inc

“The issue with merino wool can be that it comes from the farming sector, and the agricultural sector is a huge contributor to the climate crisis, so we had to figure out different ways of sourcing it. ‘Can you justify it?’ was very much the question we started with. We knew the material was great, but could we actually source it in a sustainable way? At that point, we did a deep dive into regenerative farming and met a bunch of farmers who were doing different things like trying to manage the land in a way that maximised carbon sequestration. So through that process, we were able to identify a couple of key farms we work with, that are really at the forefront of this regenerative farming movement and source wool from them. We were able to source wool at minus 14 kilogrammes of carbon dioxide or carbon dioxide equivalent sequestered at source. We basically started the whole supply chain journey with a carbon negative impact. Then we worked our way up through the rest of the supply chain, making sure that we only work with manufacturers who ran on renewables, making sure we didn’t use any harmful chemicals and really tried to optimise again for impact. The end result was not only having a really great product, but most importantly one that had a net negative footprint.”

“By existing we suppress more CO2 than gets produced.”

Quite a claim, but one backed by the science, as Sheep Inc more than ratifies it’s reason to exist. For complete transparency, this supply chain information is available via an NFC tag on each garment, connecting customers to it’s manufacturing history, its journey and also connecting you to a platform called Farmflix; their ecosystem of sheep-centred content, humorously portraying their impact—or should I say lack of—on the environment.

The Wave Collection SS ’24 — Sheep Inc



Sheep Inc NFC tag

“On top of that, we built a piece of technology that allowed us to track garments. Each individual garment has its digital fingerprint, understanding what was happening every step of the way, its impact etc. We clipped a little NFC tag into every single garment you can scan with your phone and see this entire digital fingerprint. So it was really trying to figure out how we improve the impact, how do we be 100% transparent and how do we also then allow the customer to access that information, to understand that they can trust the source of everything that we do, trust the information that we give them.”

Not content to stop at the realms of knitwear, Sheep Inc have plans to further unveil their innovations to other arenas of fashion:

“We’re about to launch swimwear which is really crazy. It’s not like you’re wearing soggy wool bottoms, it’s actually a really quick drying fabric; we figured out a way of making it with merino wool.”

One thing is certain, Sheep Inc are anything but a traditional knitwear brand, and their ambitious approach is prompting other established fashion brands to reach out and learn more about their sustainable processes. If they can maintain their momentum on this eco-fashion trajectory, not only will the sheep win, but our precious environment will too.






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