Ben was raised on a high-country sheep station in the central South Island on the rugged landscape of the McKenzie Country which is synonymous with quality wool. Ben imparts his insight into life growing up on a high country sheep station immersed in wool, and how his formative years have provided him with the skills and tenacity to lead a dynamic textile business.
JDT - You grew up in the McKenzie Country – can you provide an insight to country life?
BM - High Country life as a child was, via a wide-angle lens, large mountains, wide rivers, thousands of sheep, tall horses, deep snow and strong winds. Through young eyes, my memories of big open skies and freedom are special. The Station I was born on was 104,000 acres with a river running end to end and high snow-topped mountains either side. This vast playground on top of a good horse, was a great introduction to making decisions and sticking to them with confidence. If you lost faith, the outcome was not good.
JDT - How has sheep farming/shearing played a role in your life?
BM - My early life experiences really formed the young adult I became - energetic, with a never say die attitude. This led me to trying my hand at many different opportunities, food service, marine farming, and into textile trading. I’m never happy sitting still, so even far away from my Station up-bringing I’m still seeking to see what is over the next hill, or around the next corner.
Rural life delivers a lot of opportunity to develop a diverse playlist of experiences – you make the call, as there is no one else to discuss topics with. Mustering 1,200 cows off expansive areas with bulls coming together and fighting for the alpha spot in their herd can present some rapid decision-making opportunities. When the vanquished turns to escape the victor, one needs to get out of the way – instantly!!
Sheep, wool and wool products were central to my life on the Station, I gained a keen appreciation for the wonderful nature of wool, its uses, tactility and amazing versatility of natural fibre. This has lived with me through life and even now I appreciate and covet beautifully crafted woolen fabrics.
JDT - Which sheep variety were your family breeding and farming?
BM - Merinos, perfect grazing sheep for extensive farming environments. They would range up to 9000ft in the summer, while enduring cold winters on the lowland river flats. Merino’s have a lovely character– polite, smart, independent, and self-sufficient. Of course, Merino wool products also have a unique characteristic, heralded worldwide as a high-quality thermal fabric across many brands.
JDT - Can you tell us how your family used wool in their home and daily life?
BM - Wool played a part in our clothes, mum would spin and craft for all seasons. Especially in winter, we all wore ‘homespun’ knitted jumpers, as the climate was extreme – wool is ideal for temperature control, even when wet. From inner to our outer layer clothing it all had fine wool content.
JDT - Were you involved with daily tasks on the farm itself?
BM - Yes, mustering, training young horses, daily chores such as hand milking the station cow – which was a pre requisite to having my first horse – the mandate being ‘if you can coax the milk from the cow, you will be OK to cross the river on a horse’.
Otherwise I was free to roam a lot – with a rifle, horse and my old dog up on the front of my saddle - lucky lad.
JDT - Anything interesting about wool and or raising sheep for wool that you can tell us about?
BM - Wool is a terrific fibre – not so easy to process, but the characteristics for comfort and the environment are unrivaled - warm, cool, comfortable, safe.
JDT - What do you think makes NZ wool so superior?
BM - New Zealand is a clean environment – pure with minimal dust, mites or bugs. Accordingly, few synthetic chemicals are needed, so the fibre from New Zealand is amazing, clean, and strong.
JDT - Your time on the farm must provide some useful insight now that you moved into the textile industry?
BM - Yes, there are useful tips from farming life which have helped. The benefit of making decisions, moving forward even when all the details are not fully known, once the foundation of an idea is sound – momentum is your friend, use it to the maximum and life has a habit of working out well.
JDT - Can you tell us about your move into textiles?
BM - I married the boss’s daughter – at the time she wanted to go farming! I then put my hand up to fill a role with the team at James Dunlop Textiles for a few months, during that time it became clear the company had some magic which was compelling. The soft furnishings industry is special, good people, excellent product and lots of opportunity to keep improving ranges, process, markets, and human experiences. Two months became 34 years and still counting!
JDT - What do you most enjoy about your time at James Dunlop Textiles?
BM - Working and sharing daily challenges with station horses and working dogs taught me the value of team work. When all parties work together – striving to do more than their counterparts, magic happens. A few can achieve far more than seems possible. Watching teams achieve their goals and more - by making each other look good, is such an energizer for one and all, which is where team JDT hold a special spot in the textile supply chain. We are very lucky.