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Article: International Women's Day - Choose to Challenge

International Women's Day - Choose to Challenge

Choose to Challenge

Celebrate International Womens Day with Free Standard Postage & a Free Red Tractor Merino Country Sticker. On checkout use the Discount Code iwd21 or Shop now and Apply code here

Last year our Proprietor, Kerrie Richards, was featured in the QueenslandHER project along with 7 other women about how they handled 2020 and on Friday these women were part of the Health and Wellbeing Queensland International Women's Day Lunch celebrations. 

Hosted by Health and Wellbeing Queensland and supported by NIB Group and UQ Health and Behavioural Sciences, on Friday 5 March at Lyrebird Restaurant, Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC),  Speakers included, Dr Jeannette Young OAM, Queensland's Chief Health Officer, Dr Mellissa Naidoo, Group Chief Medical Office & Head of Clinical Innovation, NIB Group and our own Kerrie Richards, CEO, Merino Country and QueenslandHER.

MC, Jillian Whiting, facilitated a discussion about how how to support women in leadership in the next 12 months, personally or professionally, also celebrating the contribution of women and girls from all our communities.

Jillian Whiting. Dr Jeannette Young, Dr Mellissa Naidoo, Kerrie Richards

Kerrie was asked to speak about what leadership has looked like for her over the past 12 months. Below is her speech:

Who could have imagined the last 12 months? Merino Country celebrates 28 years in business this year and we have never had a year quite like it. Entrepreneurship, resilience & leadership runs in our family and these were qualities that helped me get through 2020. I also come from a long line of very strong women and sometimes feel like a fierce, warrior woman leading the charge... 

Thanks to Dr Dimity Dornan from the Hear & Say Foundation, wanting a natural, reusable mask for her grandson, who has allergies, we started developing a Fabric mask in January 2020 creating a number of prototypes and getting a range of people to trial them. As we've always tested our fabrics for different properties with from flammability to thermal resistance we wanted to know exactly what our layers of Merino would keep out or in!

This led to ringing every testing laboratory facility & university in Australia and we found that no one did tests for medical or P2 mask anywhere. We found a huge gap in the testing of products and some very hostile groups when questioning this, including phone hangups and one university professor telling us to stop trying to test fabric masks & not to make them as this was dangerous for the community. I had other information available to me and of course I didn't listen and chose to keep on challenging!

We started working with Dr John Fraser, who understood very early, the importance of wearing a mask in the fight against Covid, he told us in February last year to make as many masks as we could as they would be needed. With the help of the Qld Department of State Development we worked with ANFF (Australian National Fabrication Facility) out of the University of Qld, testing a combination of fabrics and layering systems which we then followed up with further testing in a registered laboratory in the USA. We were the first company in Australia to have fabric masks available and were able to deliver thousands for use by the general public, companies and essential workers.

Dr John Fraser, Covid Critical Care Consortium

Dr John Fraser, Critical Care Consortium. Prince Charles Hospital

Looking back at the emails in February/March was a very interesting as we were communicating nearly every day with State Development, Qld Health, Federal Government and a number of private companies on what we could produce and deliver in terms of medical supplies including masks, scrubs and surgical gowns. Nearly every day we were running scenarios on production capability and at one point we had a plan of how we could produce 10,000 masks a day working with the machines we had and with a number of other local clothing companies. 

It soon became apparent that supplies may run short and we needed to look at what we could do to mitigate this. We looked at the worst case scenarios and in February ordered enough elastics, threads and fabrics to get us through the next 12 months - our suppliers thought we were crazy! Along with our Merino fabrics we had access to a large quantity of hospital grade fabric for use in scrubs and the opportunity to purchase this - the worst case scenario if we didn't make scrubs or surgical gowns was that we could do a beautiful range of 100% Cotton sheets & pyjamas - we haven't used it and this is still the plan - when we get time!!

Machinists making masks

Two of our Fabulous Machinists, Kym & Faye

We invested very heavily in fabric, equipment and then people. The majority of our workforce are women and while we were ramping up many other businesses were slowing down and we were able to employ around 10 women of different ages and backgrounds, many of them unable to get any financial assistance.

Some of our fabulous ladies working on Masks

Whilst we were busy with masks when Victoria went into lockdown the Victoria & Queensland Police needed thermals for lockdown and border patrols and so we  were managing this as well as masks and our own range of products, making & delivering them in record time. 

Merino Thermals for Queensland Police during Border Closures

We had a bit of media attention throughout the year which was amazing as usually we struggle to get any and even though we really didn't have time for filming, interviews or photoshoots we did them. This coincided with a surge in people wanting Australian Made products including thermals, underwear & comfy things to wear in lockdown and luckily we had stock available.

We went from doing maybe 20 odd orders a day to around 300 some days -crazy stuff. We usually get maybe half a dozen phone calls in a day but at times the phone literally rang off the hook - we learnt that our telephone message bank can only hold 65 messages! We tried to get back to everyone but our apologies to those we may have missed. 

We ended up working long hours for months on end to keep up with waves of orders, paperwork and planning. The most stressful thing was dealing with delays in postage due to overwhelming parcel volumes which lead to lost face masks for essential workers & unhappy customers relying on Australia post to deliver. At one point we had about 100 overseas orders, mainly for the USA, just stuck on the tarmac at the airport as there were just no planes flying and it took the delivery service 3 weeks to let businesses know.

Australia Post

Caroline with boxes of parcels ready for despatch!

With Australia Post delays, lost parcels and anxious customers it was a stressful time and many people will say "It's just business" but our business is very personal to me, I take pride in creating and delivering quality Australian Made products which solve problems & giving very good customer service, so I don't believe in "It's just business"!

My leadership was about gathering information, looking very clearly at different possible scenarios including having to shutdown, coming up with a plan and then actually making decisions and  "throwing my hat over the fence" - committing and putting our plans into action. It was also about managing a group of  people to work together & utilising their strengths, to produce, pack and despatch product in a timely manner. Identifying the opportunities, the resources to fulfil them and then the courage to act.

As part of International Women’s Day, I choose to challenge Government, Big Business & Individuals to support Women-led manufacturing & small businesses. Women are the driving force behind many small businesses, particularly in the clothing and textile industry. I can guarantee that these businesses have much more to lose than the bigger companies so are more likely to look outside the box for solutions, deliver a quality product on time and care about their customers. Their business is personal!

Celebrate International Womens Day with Free Standard Postage & a Free Red Tractor Merino Country Sticker. On checkout use the Discount Code iwd21 or Shop now and Apply code here




Love this story Kerri. Well done to all.


Margaret Cryan

Very inspiring and intelligent reading , thank you for posting it 🎀


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