Your 101 on Winter Warmers

 By Frederique Gulcher of My Good Emporium.

Winter is all about warm fabrics with wool the must-have for our winters, whether you’re hitting the snowy slopes of Coronet Peak here in Queenstown, or just need a great top for a coffee date with friends on a cold day. Denim and feather down also do the trick. But just how eco-friendly and ethical are your winter threads. There are lots of materials suited to winter, but my top three are merino, down and denim. Here’s my 101 on how eco-friendly and ethical they are.


Merino is the best wool you can buy. As well as being breathable, anti-bacterial and anti-wicking, it is light-weight, soft, and suited to warm and cold. It makes sense – merino station farms are located here in Otago and Central Otago with sheep surviving harsh cold winters and fiery hot summers.

I put merino to the test last summer when I walked the iconic Routeburn track over 3 days. The result – I was warm, dry and not smelly! Now, that’s impressive.

Merino is incredible, but for me, the products I chose need to demonstrate ethics that extend to the animal’s welfare. Ice Breaker, for example, have their own ethical pathway called The Four Freedoms. It dictates that wool farmers provide sheep with adequate water, nutrition, free to roam open pastures, shade and shelter at all times, and disease and illness prevention and treatment. Mulesing, the cruel practice of removing fleecy skin from sheep without pain relief, is not permitted by Ice Breaker either.

Although it is best known for outdoor functionality, New Zealand merino is common in high fashion collections too nowadays. I particularly like these merino wool skivvys from NZ-made Ruby’s Autumn Winter line and Mandatory’s collection of NZ-made knitwear for the blokes. For the little ones, you cannot go past Nature Baby, the iconic Kiwi baby brand that uses chemical-free organic cotton and merino.


Wool is natural and therefore biodegradable, although dyes might not be. Look for brands that use natural colour or low impact dyes or that have responsible waste and water management processes as part of the production.

Feather Down

Did I say it gets cold here in Queenstown? Yes, I did. To ward off the worst of it, I bought a down jacket a few years ago. It’s like wearing a duvet! But, with down feathers also coming from animals - the undercoating of waterfowl such as geese – ethical considerations are important here too. I was delighted to learn about Track My Down, a supplier tracing system, before I bought my puffer. Following my Track My Down code I was able to see the source of the goose down and how ethically it was produced.


Brands with a responsible ethical stance might also be certified through The Responsible Down Standard (RDS), a comprehensive, global third-party certified animal welfare and traceability standard.

Ethical criteria look at the way animals have been plucked (alive or dead), or in relation to the primary farming purpose, for example the making of Foie Gras, the pate made of the duck/goose liver that has been specially fattened, a controversial practice.

Guess what? Our very own Kathmandu down products are all certified under the RDS. Cool!


Imagine a world without Denim?! Boring!! But as much as we love denim, production is synonymous with synthetic petrochemicals, bleaches and acids and polluted waterways. It can also be a highly water-intensive process, and in the case of fade washing, dangerous to garment workers who often work in unsafe, poorly ventilated spaces without proper respiratory guards.

The good news is that they are a number of brands using sustainable processes, with production that includes recycling water, using organic cotton (yes, denim is made from cotton), conventional indigo dyes, biodegradable polymer, being produced in safe working facilities offering makers a living wage. Some, like Mud jeans in the Netherlands, even take your old Muds back for recycling.


Back at home, New Zealand’s Recreate has a great collection of dresses, tops and pants (for kids and adults) in either a distinct pitch black or light blue denim wash. It is organic, fairtrade and sourced through the Better Cotton initiative, a global standard and investment fund for more eco-friendly and ethical cotton production. I’m a real fan for the quality and cut of their clothes, as well as their ethics. 

Denim is long-lasting, and this makes it a great environmental choice. My parting tip with denim – don’t wash your jeans after every wear. Try three wears to every wash, and just spot fix conspicuous marks for an even longer life.

No need to suffer for warmth

Whether you’re in need of some extreme warmth for alpine environments, a trendy top or jacket for a night out with mates, or a just an every-day comfort puffer, there’s no need to change your ethics and environmental considerations to keep warm.

From organic denim, to responsible down, to happy sheep, these Conscious Consumer brands will keep your values, your temperature and style in check.

We have a list of businesses that are committed to sustainable practises, including some of those listed in this article. Sign up here to join the Conscious Consumers community and find businesses that are doing their part to be kinder to people, planet and animals.

Frederique Gulcher