Icebreaker, the New Zealand based manufacturer of pure merino nature clothing, has made the largest purchase of merino wool for apparel in New Zealand history.

The contract, worth $30 million (New Zealand dollars, or roughly $21 million USD) and totaling more than 4 million pounds over 3 years, is at a 30 percent premium to the current market price. This is sufficient merino to produce over one million garments per year, to meet the rapidly growing demand for Icebreaker internationally. Icebreaker is now sold in 20 countries and 1,500 stores.

CEO of The New Zealand Merino Company, John Brakenridge, said the growth of Icebreaker and its steadily increasing demand for New Zealand’s merino wool underscores the outstanding performance properties of the merino fiber.

“From some of New Zealand’s most inhospitable and wild country we are developing a product that’s changing the way the world sees outdoor clothing. Icebreaker should be applauded for continuing to set the pace in developing this most exciting market.”

The contract was also welcomed by New Zealand’s high country farmers.

“It’s tremendous news for the industry,” says Steve Satterthwaite of Muller Station in Marlborough, New Zealand, one of the high country farmers contracted to supply Icebreaker. Satterthwaite has contracted to sell 20,000 kilograms of merino wool to Icebreaker for each of the next three years, up from 17,000 kilograms per year over the past three years. This accounts for around a quarter of Muller’s 18.4 to 20.4 micron clip, and the station is “taking any opportunity to increase this in future.”

He says Icebreaker has taken the volatility out of wool selling by working directly with growers to develop the highest quality and most consistent fiber possible.

“We’re tailoring our fiber specifications as far as possible to meet the demands of Icebreaker – that’s how significant Icebreaker is for us,” said Satterthwaite, adding that Icebreaker is a “glowing example of what can be achieved. The achievements to date have been remarkable and there’s the possibility of tremendous growth in the US.”

A portion of the contract will be meeting US demand for Icebreaker merino apparel. Icebreaker USA is seeing a 300% increase in US business from Fall 2004 to Fall 2005, and has increased its number of dealer doors by 42% over the same period. “Our approach and business model with our dealers in the states is a selective one of mutual benefit and profitability, mirroring the relationship that Icebreaker New Zealand has with its growers,” said Troy Ballard, US Market Manager for Icebreaker.

Icebreaker merino is an annually renewable and sustainable resource. Icebreaker’s contracts with its growers are guaranteed 100% mulesing free.