Inspiring Women | Kerrie Richards - From Paddock to Paddington!
INTERVIEW by CAROLINE
To celebrate International Women's Day this year we have interviewed some Inspiring women that have had an impact on us at Merino Country. What better way to kick off this series than to sit down with our founder Kerrie Richards and find out more about her.
Kerrie started Merino Country in 1993 - the price of wool had fallen, there was a drought, and everyday wool products were hard to obtain. Being the proactive person she is, Kerrie got into action to add-value to the Merino wool that her family has been growing for years, threw her hat over the farm gate and took their raw wool right through to fabric and garments.
Tell us a bit about yourself and what inspired you to start your Merino Country?
I grew up on the family sheep & cattle station, “Clareborough”, about 60k outside of Richmond in North West Queensland, went to boarding school in Townsville, followed by University on the Gold Coast. On graduating with a Bachelor of Business Degree in 1989 I couldn’t get a job in the big smoke so went home and briefly rousabouted (picking up the shorn wool off the floor) for a local shearing team until I got a job with Golden Casket in promotions in Townsville.
Shearing at Clareborough Station, Richmond, Queensland.
You can take the girl out of the country but not the country out of the girl. In 1991 I returned home helping with our farming enterprises and set up the Kerrie Richards Rural Business Service providing computerised record keeping and management information to graziers and local rural business providers and ran farm accountancy & computer workshops. I had a little Suburu Brumby ute and used to drive from North of Julia Creek right down to Longreach to see clients and sometimes they would fly to me and land on our dirt airstrip.
I was told it wouldn’t work as I was too young, female and being a local, people wouldn’t use my services – well I proved them wrong and at one point an accountant wanted to my buy my business. I still talk to people who I helped go from the old “shoe box” method to efficient & better financial management practices for their businesses & get great satisfaction from their success.
The early 1990’s was a very difficult time for many rural communities with low commodity prices for beef and wool, drought and a huge drain from country towns of young people and in 1993 I coordinated a state government program called the Future Search Program. This was helping local groups and individuals identify opportunities and value add to existing enterprises including tourism, wool, beef, horticulture and water and 30 years on it is amazing to see the results of many of those fabulous initiatives.
Kerrie Richards, Future Search Program, Richmond, May, 1993.
One of these groups was a wool group called Matilda Merino and members wanted to know what happened to their wool once it left the farm gate and what it was actually used for. I helped initiate a number of projects including following wool through the value adding chain to the end product and also promoting Australian Merino wool locally. This lead to developing my own business in value-adding to Merino wool and producing an extensive range of Merino clothing from underwear to outerwear including the brands Merino Country, Wundies and Bare Belly Joe. At this point a very prominent woolgrower told me that they didn’t think I could do what I had done as I was too young, a woman and not experienced enough!
Kerrie with her brother, Glen at the Waltzing Matilda Centenary (1995) in Winton, with the Matilda Merino Stall and one of the first market stalls for Wool Wares Australia (now Merino Country Australia)
Merino Country produces 100% Australian Merino clothing for men, women and children which is comfortable, durable and totally machine washable and ideal for everyday wear in hot and cold climates. Our range includes travelwear, underwear and thermals and are available in a wide range of great colours.
We are involved in the whole of the supply and marketing chain with the majority of our Merino fabric processing and garment production being done in Australia. We have developed our own innovative fabric that is ideal for everyday wear including, the workplace, leisure, and industrial use. Our brands, WUNDIES, MERINO COUNTRY and BARE BELLY JOE are great examples of producing locally and our persistence in keeping manufacturing onshore for the last 29 years has definitely paid off for us, particularly in the last 2 years.
We work closely with Australian woolgrowers, processors and manufacturers and have input into the specifications of not only the raw wool, but also yarn types, fabric construction, design and manufacturing of garments. Merino Country is a licensed user of the Australian Made trademark with all fabric processed in Australia and garments manufactured in Queensland supporting local jobs and industry and to have better control over quality.
When did you first realise you were entrepreneurial – was this something that started at a young age?
It’s something that is in our family and not only were my parents very entrepreneurial but so were previous generations both paternally & maternally. It’s in the blood and is something that we grew up with my parents often being the first to try something new in our district with an evaluation of what’s the worse and best case scenario? Mum was always saying things like “just do it, then it’s done” (which probably referred to cleaning my room or such), “there’s no such word as can’t”. Our family were always involved in the community with agriculture, sport, art & craft, a variety of committees swapping ideas and working together to get things done. Many members of my family are leaders in their particular fields and contribute to community, business and industry & have always been incredibly supportive and helped me get to where we are today.
An important lesson from growing up in a farming enterprise where drought, flood and heartbreak are common, is that adversity often leads to innovation and opportunities. It seems when things appear pretty bleak, it is often a matter of one door closing and another opening. When this happens you need to make the most of the opportunities presented and enjoy the ride!
What keeps you motivated?
New projects, new goals, new customers, new products and the fact that people love our products so much! The thing I love most about what I do is using 100% Australian Merino Wool to create products that provide solutions for our customers problems. I love seeing customers wear our product, and also hear where they’ve worn it. Receiving feedback from customers is very rewarding; I’ve seen pictures from Defence Personnel in Afghanistan wearing our thermals, to café scenes in Paris, breathtaking scenes in Mongolia and breast cancer patients getting relief with our bras! I love the diversity of our customers and our Australian made products.
Kerrie Richards (in red) at a the annual the Qld Rural, Regional & Remote Womens Network (QRRRN) Ekka High Tea at Brisbane City Hall with some Merino Country staff and women who have made an impact at Merino Country
What is the best piece of advice anyone has ever given you that has helped you as a business women?
Smell the roses and take time for yourself. You don’t have to be everything and do everything yourself (except I know that it's sometimes what we do and it’s pretty hard to hand over the reins but really there are some things that other people are just better at certain things).
My advice would be to broaden your horizons, and look outside your own immediate industry for opportunities. Never be afraid to ask for advice from someone who knows more than you do, and utilise all life experiences – even if they don’t relate to your immediate situation they will be useful in some respect. Networking within your area of interest and importantly also outside as you never know what you’ll learn. Don’t be afraid to take risks and step outside of your comfort zone and just say Yes to opportunities!!
Every now and again I step outside my comfort zone and do things that are challenging and once I've done it gives me confidence in other areas of my life. For example, I have just hiked & sea kayaked around Bruny Island with Tim Cope and am training for the Simpson Desert Ultra with Cath Wallis - scary but doable with the right support and right people around.
What is your go to Merino Country item for work or play?
I wear our products every single day from my Wundies – bras & knickers, through to dresses, pants and more. I love the versatility of our products and being able to wear the same thing for work, travel and play and just changing the look with a pair of shoes!
Kerrie & Anna Paddling out on Redland Bay, 2021. Merino Layers
Summer Faves: With it being Summer (hot & sweaty in Queensland) my favourites right now are our Crop Top, Hi-cut Panel Briefs, ¾ Leggings, Bike Pants, Sports Top and our new Pocket Dress. I often train in the morning in leggings or bike pants with our sports top and then just swap my runners for work shoes, throw the dress on over the top and head to work and will wear the same thing for days at a time as 100% Merino doesn’t smell and always looks great. On the weekends I do a bit of outrigger paddling and wear the leggings, bike pants & sports top and often when I get home will strip off and jump in the pool in my crop top and briefs, pop under the outdoor shower, dry off and keep the same underwear on for the day!
Kerrie in Quilpie, Western Queensland. 2021 Wearing Merino Layers
Winter Faves: Winter is layering season for me! My favourites are the 310 Leggings as you can wear them as thermals for sleeping, as pants, or under dresses or tunics. Layering our Long Sleeve Tees and 3/4 Sleeve Tunic Tops is also great in winter as they are all breathable so you won't overheat or sweat when wearing over each other.
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
Yes! Whilst I'm the face of the business and people often see me out the front, the reality is that we have an amazing team of people, including my wonderful (& patient) husband, Malcolm Pain, who actually make Merino Country happen. Behind the seams is really hard work with many challenges, it's like a rollercoaster rides & sometimes it feels like it would be much easier to walk away, but our team is fantastic and each has a job to do and without all of us working together you just wouldn't get the beautiful, Australian Merino clothing and underwear that we produce!!
Kerrie, Mal and some of the team, making our Merino Masks in 2020