What happens when a woman with a long-standing love of fashion marries a wool grower? The answer is a luxury fashion label straight out of Burra in South Australia.
Emily Riggs and her husband Tom have forged a unique partnership in business as well as life. She loves getting out on the farm to lend a helping hand, while in turn, he’s found himself stepping into the shoes of a model! Luxury clothing label Iris and Wool is a crucial part of the diversification of the family farm.
But, Emily has had to overcome incredible personal tragedy to forge such a successful path for herself.
The couple runs 15,000 sheep across four properties. It is a sizeable operation, but Emily says finding the time to do something to satisfy her creativity was important. It’s lead her to explore merino wool in ways few others have done before.
“I’m so lucky I can use this fibre in fashion,” says Emily. The garments are made using 100% certified Australian merino wool, even listing all the farms from which she sources.
Traceability is paramount for Emily and her efforts have culminated in being Woolmark accredited. The significance of that little logo on wool garments is more important than many may realise. “It shows the garment has been through rigorous testing for pilling, strength, shape and shrinking. So, you know you are buying a beautiful piece of clothing that you’ll have for hopefully your lifetime,” explains Emily.
Merino wool just inspires me. The fact that it’s made from sunshine, grass and water off a sheep’s back is just phenomenal.”
Slow fashion is a trend we are hearing more and more about. It’s something Emily advocates strongly for.
“We want to look after the planet don’t we? We need to use sustainable fibres that are good for the planet and also feel nice to wear. It’s a no-brainer. Why would you buy synthetic when you can have the real thing?”
“Merino wool just inspires me. The fact that it’s made from sunshine, grass and water off a sheep’s back is just phenomenal.”
Far more than woolly jumpers
Emily believes many people don’t realise how versatile wool can be. “It’s not always just the typical cable jumper. You can do so much more with it – sportswear, merino denim, I’m a horse rider too so I’ve done an equestrian collection. The possibilities are endless,” says Emily.
We want to look after the planet don’t we? We need to use sustainable fibres that are good for the planet and also feel nice to wear. It’s a no-brainer.”
Emily’s most recent triumph is a fitted wool dress she’s named the Little River Dress. “I think it’s the elasticity and it just moves with your body,” she says.
This career path comes from a deeper place for Emily. She was diagnosed with lymphoma at the age of 10 and lost her mother to cancer shortly after her own diagnosis.
“When the first seeds of Iris and Wool were planted, I was sick. I’d lost my mum to breast cancer. I had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma at the same time. I was so sick. I was struggling at school. I’d lost all my hair. I’d get mistaken for a boy a lot which really shattered my confidence. I think that’s when I turned to fashion. It was a way to express my creativity and for people to look beyond my illness.”
We also donate 5% of our sales to the McGrath Foundation.”
Being able to control that aspect of her life gave Emily solace. Her mum is also inextricably linked to Emily’s business through its name.
“The iris flower was her favourite and we also donate 5% of our sales to the McGrath Foundation.”
While wool is certainly the star of Iris and Wool, this young designer is expanding to other natural fibres grown by local farmers.
Farm to fashion
“I only design an Autumn/Winter collection but there is more demand so I’m going to bring out my first Spring collection. It’s all going to still use merino wool but a blend with linen and cotton. It’s so beautiful to feel and wear. It’s so luxurious. So, watch this space,” says an excited Emily.
It’s not always just the typical cable jumper. You can do so much more with it.”
“It’s something I’m passionate about and it brings me so much joy. My husband is so supportive – he’s even modelled for me!”
Direct farm to fashion is a goal Emily is working on. “I would love to use our own merino wool. I’m trying very hard! But I need certain specifications like low vegetable matter. Because we have station country, there are lots of prickles and all that goes into the wool. So, it has to be specially cleaned. We also produce a bit coarser wool – about 21 microns. Whereas all my pieces use 18 to 19 microns. I am in conversations to use our own wool, even if it’s a blend.”
She does guarantee however, all her pieces are proudly Australian grown.
“Receiving emails or messages from people saying how much they love their Iris and Wool garment is the most rewarding part about having your own business. Just seeing the growth. I’ve never had this kind of confidence before.”
Emily promotes our wool domestically and to the world. What a wonderful ambassador for this incredible natural fibre.
Next, she has her sights on enticing The Duchess of Cambridge to wear one of her pieces. Judging by the dynamism in all she’s achieved so far, how could Kate resist?