From her farm just north of Burra, South Australia, Emily Riggs is building a business based on her passion for the wool industry, her love of horses and a desire to make her mark as a leader in slow fashion.
It appears she is on the right track, with her Iris and Wool clothing label — featuring 100% Australian wool — experiencing a massive 385% sales growth in the past 12 months.
While the COVID pandemic initially hit hard at Iris and Wool’s in-store sales across Australia, Riggs said it was now one of the drivers behind the business’s incredible growth.
“In the current climate, people are becoming increasingly aware and mindful of consuming less and turning to more quality pieces,” she said.
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“People in lockdown have turned to online shopping rather than going into an actual shop.
“My marketing has been gaining attention and social media influencers have been seen endorsing Iris and Wool, including Mia Freedman, Emma Hawkins, Elle Ferguson and Catriona Rowntree.”
Riggs said she was proud to be able to run her business from rural South Australia, where she lives on a sheep and cropping property with her husband Tom, and her two small children Sam and Lucy.
“I don’t feel disadvantaged at all being based regionally,” Riggs said.
“I love being able to showcase farm to fashion to our city community.
“I found an interesting statistic recently, that in Australia 83% of Australians list their connection to farming as ‘distant’ or ‘non-existent’, and in a world where we have never been more technologically connected this startled me.
“Every day food and fibre is part of our lives and it is pivotal to shaping the world we live in.
“I want to bridge this gap.”
Riggs’s wool brand has enabled her to combine her passion for fashion with her lifestyle.
“I’m married to a Merino sheep producer and I’ve always had a love of fashion, so when I was exposed to the Merino fibre I thought, why not combine the two and start my own label all made from 100% Australian Merino wool?” Riggs said.
“I just love that wool is a natural fibre, it’s biodegradable and it breathes so well. I believe it’s the best fibre in the world and it sells itself.
“Wool is so incredibly versatile: it’s not just chunky knits but it also works so well in sportswear and can be really fine gauge which means it’s perfect for thin, summer garments.
“I’ve also been able to incorporate Merino wool into equestrian wear — combining my other passion, horse riding — with some base layer tops as well as wool/cotton jodhpurs, along with a new range of men’s and women’s Merino wool denim.”
There is something else special about Iris and Wool and it is all in the name, a gentle embrace to Riggs’s late mother, Jane, whose favourite flower was the Iris.
It is in her memory that Riggs made the decision to donate 5% of all sales to the McGrath Foundation to support breast care nurses in the community.
“The McGrath Foundation is very close to my heart,” Riggs said.
“My mum died from breast cancer at the age of 43. I was just 11 and, at the same time, I was having chemo myself for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
“We lived in the country at the time and had to move closer to the city for our treatment. It was such a difficult time, and I just think perhaps if mum had access to one of these breast care nurses things might have been different.
“One thing I do know for sure is that mum would have been so proud of what I’m now achieving, delighted that I’m happy and following my dream, and just quietly chuffed I think.”
Now a mum herself, Riggs’s business has branched out.
A new children’s range was launched this year, along with merino wool accessories including hugely popular cable knit gloves and scarves.
“I’m hoping that, eventually, I can use our own wool from the property here in Burra,” Riggs said.
“It’s something really exciting and something to strive towards, making it a true ‘farm to fashion’ story.
“I want Iris and Wool to be a global brand and would love to be recognised as a leader in the slow fashion movement, showcasing the amazing qualities of Australian Merino wool to the world.”
This article was first published by The Lead South Australia.