How one farmer used the COVID-19 lockdown to create 'Grumpy Merino'

The surprise announcement last week by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern saying Auckland would be moving back to alert level 3 and the rest of the country to level 2 no doubt brought a sense of déjà vu for a number of Kiwis.

Although for many, lockdown brings feelings of loneliness and isolation, some people have found the best way to deal with the uncertain times is through creative means.

One of those people is Sarah Reed, who became inspired to start a wool clothing line.

The farmer and mother-of-three who lives with her family in Culverden, North Canterbury, says she was inspired to start the business after struggling during the first lockdown. 

"Basically at the end of lockdown one, with the three kids I felt a little like I had lost my identity and I just needed to find something for myself," Reed told Dominic George on Magic Talk's Rural Today on Monday. 

"That was a really challenging time for me and I don't know [if] other mums were in the same boat, but I felt like I just needed something for myself again so that's how I came up with the idea of the 'Grumpy Merino'."

The name is a combination of 'The Grampians' - the name of the farm - and her father-in-law's nickname 'Stumpy'.

The clothing line, which is part of the Devold Norway brand, sells everything from beanies, to mittens to hoodies.

Reed, who grew up on a sheep and beef farm in Hawke's Bay, says she plunged into the business idea despite having "no background" in clothing design.

"I'm actually a nurse by trade. Even merino for me is completely new," she said.

"This is a completely new challenge. I wanted a new challenge and I've seriously thrown myself in the deep end. But it's all good, it's really really good."

The family-owned farm, run by Reed and her husband Jono, has around 5500 Angus and merino sheep. Every year they are shorn on the farm, with their wool being tightly pressed into 180kg bales which are transported to Christchurch to be tested for strength, softness, quality and colour. The main line of fleece is then sent to Lithuania to be made into the final products.

Reed says the venture is both a novel change from normal farming work while still being related to the farm's business.

"The good thing about this is it's diversifying off our already established business so you're not taking yourself off-farm and you can still be in the centre pivot of what's going on here. That's the thing that made it really quite appealing as well, you're working your own hours and then it's still on our farm, it's still to do with our farming business."

Although just freshly launched, Reed says things so far are going well. The aim now is to keep up the momentum and keep growing.