A world first woollen running shoe using fabrics designed by AgResearch has launched onto the market.

The first run of the wool runners, which have been created by New Zealand company Allbirds, sold out shortly after they were announced on crowdfunding website Kickstarter.

The Wool Runner highlights the work AgResearch has done in helping create a value-added product from the under-appreciated mid-micron parts of the wool clip.

This offers the opportunity to open up a new high-value sector for wool, boosting demand for wool and ultimately increasing returns to sheep farmers.

The unique patent pending process, developed in a project jointly funded by Allbirds and Wool Industry Research Ltd, comprises a novel fabric construction technique, using wool together with small amount of other fibre types followed by finishing using carefully selected processes to give it the characteristics suitable for use as a shoe-upper.

The advantages of being made from wool include controlling odour, temperature regulation, moisture management, and resistance to stains and dirt, all from a sustainable resource.

AgResearch senior scientist Stewart Collie worked to develop the shoe fabric after being approached by the company.

“We went through a wide range of fabrics that we had created for other uses and identified a candidate that looked like it could be developed into something that would have the combination of strength, durability and comfort,” he says.

“What’s good is that the wool fibre diameter in this particular fabric is in in the 28-29 micron range, which actually performs better than the 19-21 micron merino wool used in other sportswear applications.

“It often seems like there are numerous opportunities to find high-value new markets for merino, but it can be more challenging for the coarser part of the clip.”

Wearer trials of the shoe they developed came back with very positive feedback, with some even reporting they could be worn comfortably without socks.

“Shoe fabrics have a different set of mechanical performance requirements compared to apparel fabrics. The fabric needs to be able to withstand a large number of repetitive tensile, flexural and abrasive forces as different parts of the shoe are stretched, bent, compressed and rubbed during every stride.

“It also needs to stay looking good. One of the interesting aspects that came out in the testing was that the fabric had a bit of give/stretch to offer comfort, but recovered back into shape when taken off.

“We hope this product builds demand and interest in new technical uses for mid-micron wool. Helping open up new high value markets will then offer better returns for wool growers.”

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