Foxtrot home farm

Photography Alice Veysey

Meet the Kiwi sisters trailblazing a path in the sustainable wool homewares industry.

Kiwi sisters Kate Cullwick and Prue Watson are the duo behind Foxtrot Home, an online homeware brand. They started out selling linen goods, and have now branched out into making a collection of premium wool throws that, from paddock to bed, are completely produced here in Aotearoa.

The sisters say it is the ultimate dream to be 100 per cent New Zealand-made, which is what they have achieved with their wool range.

After deep-diving into homeware research mid-pandemic, Cullwick, who handles the marketing side of the business, discovered that it was possible to create woollen homewares completely within New Zealand, starting from her own farm.

“It was a moment of, oh my gosh, did you know that there’s factories in New Zealand that do knitting and weaving and processing of wool from people’s farms into product? And we’re sitting on all this wool that is undervalued. It was a real eureka moment!”

The sisters come from a Gisborne farming family, and Cullwick is carrying on the legacy – she and her husband Jeremy bought their farm in Hawke’s Bay, from Jeremy’s parents. Producing 10,000 tons of wool annually from their Romney stock, it was the perfect opportunity to put it to use, especially as Romney wool is the perfect strength for the warm, long-lasting blankets they wanted to create.

“Romney is a beautiful breed, they’re just living their great lives out in the fresh air and grazing while producing nature’s wonder fibre,” says Cullwick.

Starting off in 2016 with a desire to do something for themselves separate from their regular lifestyles, Cullwick and Watson both had a passion for homewares, with a side of sustainability, which is how Foxtrot Home was born.

Although they live in different parts of the country (Watson, who handles operations, is based in Auckland), they have a business model that works perfectly for their dynamic.

“We are each other’s rocks in personal life and work, how lucky are we?” remarks Watson. “The fact that we have this geographical distance helps – don’t put us in the same room,” Cullwick laughs.

Expanding into wool has been an incredible journey for the sisters, but like anything good, it hasn’t come without challenges. Because of the lack of information readily available to them, every road they went down had to be forged by themselves.

“It can be a bit of a hurdle, because there isn’t this well-worn path. You have to go out and find it yourself,” says Watson.

They say it’s a reflection of the current industry in New Zealand, that there aren’t the producers or infrastructure to support the demand. In saying that, as entrepreneurial spirits, the two are enjoying creating this new way of doing things.

“We love the opportunity of forging new connections and making that path a little bit more well-worn, and all we can do is continue to show we are committed,” says Watson.

For the production of Foxtrot Home’s wool products, the sisters decided to do things a bit differently by getting the wool knitted instead of woven, for the ultimate, cosy blanket. They explain the difference: knitting produces a looser finish, giving a blanket a lovely handle and stretch while keeping it heavy, therefore a lot bigger and warmer than a woven option.

When Cullwick and Watson visited the makers, based in Auckland, they were blown away with what was being done with New Zealand wool. “Some of our wool goes onto the upholstery on airlines around the world, carpets in huge Las Vegas casinos, there’s all these amazing things New Zealand wool is doing, but you just don’t hear about it at all!” says Cullwick.

When asked about the reason behind the lack of recognition for wool, the sisters’ immediate answer is heavy-hitting but not unpredictable – synthetic fibres.

“Nobody was worried about the planet in those days, it was all about ‘let’s do this quicker and cheaper’,” suggests Cullwick.

She proposes that a lack of education is also in part to blame, saying it’s ironic considering that we are such big producers of wool.

“It’s a collective conscious thinking that has not been in the New Zealand marketplace for such a long time. There’s gotta be that whole shift, in buying natural. The kinder to the environment that fibres are, the better it is long-term.”

The sisters are positive that they can see change, gradually building momentum, but know there is still a way to go before the demand is there.

“As farmers and wool producers, we are still trying to find the right people to spread that message as fast as they can, and sway everyone to our way of thinking.”

As a small business, Foxtrot Home prides itself on being 100 per cent transparent. As part of that, the journey of the wool is fully traceable, starting from its origins on Cullwick’s farm.

The lambs are first shorn in the summer, ultimately protecting them from the heat. The wool is then sent to a local scouring plant, before heading to Wellington to be spun and dyed into yarn. Following this it is transported to Auckland to be knitted, before heading back to Waipukurau, just down the road from the farm, for dispatching.

“They are the only places that can process it at the moment, but we actually like the fact that it comes full circle!” smiles Cullwick. The importance of traceability isn’t lost on the pair, as part of their core ethos and values is to ensure Foxtrot Home’s customers know the background of where their products come from. Farming their own sheep is a beautiful piece of the puzzle, through knowing their own ethical farming practices and exactly where everything comes from.

From starting out of Watson’s garden shed as a passion project, to now both sisters working full-time with a team of employees, and building a showroom out of Waipukurau, the pair never anticipated it would get to where it is today.

“It has always been organic growth, and it kind of snowballed during the first lockdown as it became apparent that people were shopping online for their homes and supporting New Zealand businesses,” says Watson.

This growth has been recognised by more than just their customers, with Foxtrot Home recently winning the Emerging Business award at the NZI Rural Women Business Awards 2022.

No matter how big they grow, however, they are adamant to maintain not just the personal relationships with their customers, but the healthy work-life balance they always set out to achieve.

They follow the idea that “it’s life first and then business”.

Working together as sisters they’ve created a unique business model designed perfectly not just for their relationship but for their daily lives and struggles.

“We’ve designed a business that reflects our own personalities and values, if life gets in the way, you have to do that first,” says Watson.

“The business has helped me so much in that I’m able to be my true self, and represent my true values,” says Cullwick.

Particularly supportive of mental health, the sisters have a mutual understanding with each other and can tell straight away when one may need to take a step back, something that has likely helped them reach this level of success.

The sisters are hopeful that sustainable, New Zealand-made materials will become the more popular choice, and with a disclaimer – “we don’t think of ourselves as influencers!” – are conscious that what they do holds influence.

“We’re excited to say very strongly, we are New Zealand-made, transparent, hopefully inspiring and motivating other businesses to do the same,” says Cullwick.

“It is more expensive to do it here in New Zealand, but that’s a choice we’ve made and it’s on us to educate people about it,” adds Watson.

The pair’s passion for doing better runs deep and couldn’t be clearer as they talk about this: “Maybe those people that don’t believe in it to the detriment of the planet, animals, environment are, to put it simply, shoved out of the market,” says Cullwick.

In a world full of choice, we vote with our dollars, and the Foxtrot sisters and their positivity about changing the future for the better, are great ones to vote for.

Visit French Linen Bedding from Foxtrot Home NZ to learn more.

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