Devold has proudly owned its own mill. A few years ago, Devold decided to buy, own and operate a brand new and state-of-the-art factory, especially adapted to Devold's products and quality wool. The location of the mill was set to Europe, even though similar work has been relocated to Asia. This extremely high-tech factory from 2015 is located in Lithuania. Why? "Because quality assurance is considered more reliable in Europe. Lithuania is also located in the middle of the European market. Short distances and proximity to the headquarters in Norway make logistics and communication more effective", says Tor Jonsson, director of the mill. Here, in the country's fifth largest city Panevezyz, 304 people work with production and quality assurance of the Devold merino wool - in many stages. Multiple tests in laboratories are conducted to establish the wools strength and fineness, amongst other important things. The wool is stretched, illuminated, and closely studied, in several ways.
For a century and a half
After many different stages (which you soon will be hurdled through), the merino clothes will be sewn in a very large room where about 120 female workers sit at their private sewing machines, in shifts lasting from 06:00 to 14:30 and 14:30 until 23:00. At the very end of a normal working day, between 5,000 and 10,000 merino-garments have been manufactured at the mill. But before all of this happens, "the raw merino wool that will smell like proper sheep”, as Tor Jonsson explains, has traveled with huge ships from Devold Farms in Australia and Tasmania, before the quality wool ends up in Italy or Egypt six to eight weeks later.
At the mediterranean harbours
the wool is welcomed by Schneider, Devold's partner and professional wool supplier who first make sure to wash the wool clean of dirt and its natural waxy grease, lanolin. This happens in huge, open, long water basins, with different stages - almost like on a washing machine. The thinner, finer wool remains at the factory in Italy, while the slightly coarser wool will be sent to Egypt for the same process. Tim Marwedel at Schneider says the company uses methods and cleaning products according to European environmental standards. Through washing, called scouring, between 30-40 percent of the weight disappears when seeds, soil, vegetation and fat are washed out completely with long "forks" that will dip and pull the wool forwards and backwards. This way the wool becomes almost as white as newly fallen snow. After drying the wool, Schneider produces their high-quality wool tops for Devold; long bundles of untreated wool that will resemble a thick sausage. The clean wool will be carded, where the fibers are mechanically combed with a series of rotating cylinders covered with pins, that make the fibers as straight, airy and parallel as possible before the wool is nestled together. "From here on Devold takes over the ultimate ownership of the wool," says Tor Jonsson. However, samples from the batches of untreated wool tops must first be approved by Devold Laboratory Team. After approval, the fiber's exact micron numbers are found electronically with a laser scanner. This important number, which determinates how fine the wool is, will be controlled three times, by Schneider, the Devold factory and the spinning company. After being given "the green light", the whole lot is shipped to Austria and treated with Total Easy Care (TEC), made by a well-known and established spinner company named Schoeller. TEC is a chemical treatment that breaks down the structure of the wool. By applying a liquid polymeric membrane, the wool's sensitivity to being washed is strengthened. "This chemical treatment has become more environmentally friendly, and when dealing with our products, Schoeller uses a chlorine-free treatment," says Tor Jonsson. Schoeller also takes care of the spinning process. It happens at their factory in the Czech Republic. The tops are spun in lightning fast hypnotic high-tech machines, before they end up in about 25 different durable types of yarn. This yarn will then be transported by truck to the Devold factory in Lithuania.
Safely back at the mill
the samples of the yarn are repeatedly tested for strength and softness. The tests are done both mechanically and manually. The yarn is simply stretched until it breaks, to figure out how much weight it can withstand. When the strongest yarn is approved, it will be knitted. Not woven. The knitting at the factory in Lithuania will not be conducted with grandma´s gray old knitting pins, although it is done within the same principle. At the factory there are about thirty knitting machines, on the inside containing barrel-shaped cylinders with different diameters.
With the help from between 48 and 3840 thin needles that knit parallel, the machines create fabric at a wild speed. The yarn has now been transformed into long, white, wide rolls of raw fabric. Every day, between one and two ton is being sent to coloring at Scandye, a 170 kilometers long drive from the factory. The rolls of woolen fabric are sewn together before they get cleaned in a big tub and there also undergoes dyeing for several rounds, before they are washed again and dried. "For environmental reasons, we choose to use biodegradable dyes, we focus on using the best processes all the way," says Tor Jonsson.
Blue, black, pink
or maybe forest green, the rolls return in packages of approximately 22 kilograms. The weave is now folded in zigzag - and ready for yet another test. With one especially advanced "compactor machine", which Devold is the sole owner of in Europe to date, one will seek to "regulate the shrinkage" of the fabric. Tor Jonsson explains; "We want to make sure that the fabric is not stretched in the process, so the garments shrink as little as possible when washed by our customers". The newly dyed colors will then be tested, to echo as close as possible the original fabric sample. "We want to make sure customers will not have two different shades on a new pair of longs and a matching jumper from last year's batch," Jonsson says.
The color testing continues in a “closet” filled with a special light, before the colors are electronically determined with a little technical device. The approved colored fabric will soon run over a "light table", where an employee with the eyes of an eagle checks the fabric for small beauty defects, such as a small knot on the yarn inside the knitted fabric. The faults will be logged digitally, so when the fabric soon will be cut, one will be able to avoid these non-perfect areas. But, the garment is still top notch, and can be used for a second edition. When a sweater arm, the back of a jacket or the left tights leg are going to be cut out, one wants to make the most of the fabric space. So, a computerized cutting machine will be given a defined plan for placing the different garment elements perfectly in allocation – this way the least possible millimeter of merino wool will go to waste. "It's almost like when you´re cutting out gingerbread-men," says Tor Jonsson.
When thousands of garment pairs
are finished, the right arms, backs, left legs and all other elements of the soon-to-be clothes will be handled manually and bundled together, before fabrics that will end up in about 50 full quality merino garments are placed in a small trolley. Accessories such as zippers and tags will be placed in the trolley as well, everything that will need to be sewed on.
About 120 women will sew the clothes together. No machine in the world is smart enough to take on this task. Even after the Devold logo has been embroidered on the garments with special machines, the clothes are not yet fully complete. New shrink and washing tests will be done, and every piece will be visually inspected. New tests on measurements and lengths are being done, before all garments are packed by hand and placed in the stocking room. Soon, the exclusive merino clothes from Devold will be transported north, east, south and west to anyone who enjoys a warmer, safer and softer everyday life.