The Benefits of Wool — A Tale of Smells and Temperate Body Climates
Benjamin Antoni AndersenEssentials
When we designed the first model of our line, there was never a question around our chosen material. Wool was the one and true answer. Curly sheep hair is inseparable from Norwegian culture and the roots of the brand — but how, and why has it become so?
Norwegian children wear wool. It’s a thing. Parents buy it, sell it, hand knit it, and promote it. There’s nothing like a mom-made wool sweater, or even a pair of cold-resistant inner wool-trousers to get you through the -20℃ winters.
It is ingrained in Norwegian culture to such a degree that I never questioned its benefits before I was about a year into running Red Hat Factory. One day I realized that as a wool-peddler I should probably know a bit more about the specifics of why it’s considered so great.
I’ve heard it said time and time again, from the age when my mother forced my child-legs into a pair of light blue hand-knit wool trousers and sent me out playing in the snow.
Those pants itched like crazy — an issue longe since solved, more about that in the next section — but they sure kept me warm.
A practical, and maybe slightly nasty example from adult life, is this. When I’ve been having a fever, and woken up shivering in a cold pool of my own sweat, a standard set of a thin woolen long sleeved shirt + woolen long johns solves the issue. I can sleep through the night, and wake up in a nice temperate pool of my own sweat instead.
Yeah, I told you it was nasty. But that’s life for you.
So, why does wool stay warm even when wet?
You can get into a deep wormhole when researching this, but put super simply, wool is a complex structure, designed to keep sheep at an even temperature in a wide range of weather conditions. Without even touching on the science I don’t understand, it seems wool absorbs your sweat into itself, leading it away from your body, and then allows it to vaporize at a leisure inside of the wool, not touching your skin.
On the flip side, wool is also relatively water resistant from the outside. How does that work? Don’t ask me. Ask Google.
“I basically live inside a set of wool shirt and long johns the entire winter, and could not imagine anything that feels more natural.”
As you understand, I haven’t the faintest grasp on the inner workings of this, but I have a lifetime of experience enjoying the benefits. I basically live inside a set of wool shirt and long johns the entire winter, and could not imagine anything that feels more natural. And, as it turns out, from this picture my mom pulled out of the album — I have done so all my life.
One of our friends and Red Hat Factory beanie-owners said something akin to “I basically live inside of this beanie. It’s the first wool beanie I’ve had that doesn’t itch.”
The thick Norwegian wool I was wearing when I grew up was itchy — and that was the talk of the town among us children. “Hey, ma is forcing me into these itchy woolly hell-pants again.” But those days are long gone.
“Hey, ma is forcing me into these itchy woolly hell-pants again.”
Where does the itch come from, and how has humanity combated this great evil?
The thickness of wool grains is measured in microns (1‰ of a mm), and the infamous itchiness threshold is at 27 micron. While Norwegian sheep naturally produce a rougher grain, to withstand the wild mountain weather, there are ways to grind the wool to a finer grain size — so even Norwegian wool doesn’t have to itch anymore.
Another way to go, is to use wool from more temperate climates. We use wool from South America, where the climate naturally softens up he wool on the sheep, and it is below the itchiness treshold all-by-its-natural.
That was the headline of every single day of my life, living inside a full wool attire.
If you’ve used wool a lot, you’ve probably either heard or noticed that you don’t have to wash it that much. A bit of Googling shows that it consistency nails the top scores on low-odor tests. Many venture as far as to name it anti-bacterial.
We’ve already established, I am not a scientific genius, so I won’t venture into any advanced vocabulary, but fall back on my experience. The wool sweaters I wear on the outside, I rarely wash at all, and they never smell. The inner layer of wool — the long johns and long sleeve wool shirt — I wash more, but still much more seldom than other fabrics, and yes it’s absolutely true, they take a longer time to gain stinkage.
So, why does wool smell less?
Lanolin, also called wool grease, -wax, -oil, or -fat, is a grease that sheep produce, and that is mixed into the wool. The grease apparently protects the sheep from infections, and is used in a lot of skin creams and such. Sounds pretty rad to me, and makes me think wool just straight off kills bacteria — but that doesn’t seem to be the case.
“And there, deep inside of the wool, the bacteria are kept safely away from each other, so they can’t make more smelly bac-babies.”
One article I read said it’s not that lanolin actually kills bacteria, but the odor-killing abilities of wool actually come from the way it transports sweat away from your body, including all the nasty things that inhabit the sweat. And there, deep inside of the wool, the bacteria are kept safely away from each other and your skin, so they can’t make more smelly bac-babies.
So maybe, you should wash your wool occasionally — but not that often.
The red hand knit cap is the beginning and the heart of our company. Everyone from Jaques Cousteau to Kanye West wears them. But what outfits go well with a red beanie?
They are poster children for the red cap, and are mentioned a lot in Red Hat Factory articles. What all their iconic outfits have in common is the red/blue contrast, which is one of my personal favorites. I often wear a denim shirt with my red cap.
In nature, the red cap stands out, and that is kind of the point. Wearing military style greens with the cap is never a mistake. Especially if you’re out hunting and want to avoid being mistaken for a moose.
As you blend with nature, the cap pops even more.
It is yet another favorite for us at the Factory.
Yellow has become the iconic color for rain jackets. Red is the same for knit caps. Two bright icons together creates a colorful collision. Also, the rain jacket as a fisherman’s working wear, draws out the history of the fisherman beanie in your outfit.
Black and white are seldom wrong “color” choices when it comes to lending voice to other pieces of apparel. If you want your beanie to shine, why not go monochrome — white or black?
Here at Red Hat Factory we are much more interested in seeing what you can come up with.
How you integrate our caps into your style is way more fun than telling you how to do it. That is why we deliver our hand knit pieces as a long “sausage” of wool that you fold yourself.
After all, though it’s a corny thing to say, the best piece of apparel is actually confidence.
Rough, sturdy and simple — the working class fisherman and his rough knit cap has ever been an inspiration for how we knit our products. But how deep into that history can we dig?
We already wrote a whole article about the Steve Zissou hat, and how that has shaped our beanies. Steve is a fictional character who draws his inspiration from red beanie wearing, submarine genius Jaques Cousteau. But what inspiration was he drawing on? — what connected beanies to the seafarer in the first place?
I’d love to come up with something deeply symbolic, but I think history is very simple — yet beautiful — when it comes to the fisherman beanie.
Imagine coastal society. It’s a time when most women are the keepers of the house, while the men are out providing for the family’s economical needs.
Say what you want about gender roles — I’m not here to discuss that, but simply to dig into history.
There are deep historical roots to why knitting is prevalent among women in Norway (where Red Hat Factory comes from) to this day. I know my mother learnt it from her mother, who again probably learnt it from hers — the roots stretch far back.
Those days were a time when the woman was tasked with actually protecting the household against the elements — and among the responsibilities was keeping her family warm at the onset of winter.
In our imagined little coastal society, not all the fishermen could afford a water proof sou’wester, so the next best alternative stood in line. Wool was readily available, and the property of wool that isolates even when wet made it a fine second choice.
So she knits him a beanie, tight knit because of years of skill (she has knit for every one of her seven kids) and full of care because she desperately wants her man to come home from the sea, today as every day before.
In this way the hand knit fisherman beanie represents a simple life of hard work and survival that most people through history has lived.
It is good to look at history for perspective, and maybe to gain some gratefulness.
Finding images of actual fishermen, wearing beanies is tremendously hard. The modern trend of the fisherman beanie has taken over image searches, pushing the black and white genuine photos aside.
Mostly whenever I find a picture of what we would call a fisherman beanie today, it turns out to be a modern day portrait, taken with a vintage style. The real pictures I’ve found however, reveals something very interesting.
It seems that people put whatever they wanted on their heads before heading out to sea. And that is just how we like it.
You might have noticed on the first picture, beside Cousteau, that the fisherman has an incredibly long beanie with a pom-pom at the end.
The style derives from fishing societies in Portugal, specifically the Povoan culture.
The culture was centered around fishing. Their legends and their religion — it all swirled around the sea, sea creatures and fish. Saint Andrew was believed to fish the souls of the perished at sea into heaven, and they avoided work on Sunday because of an old legend about a sea serpent punishing people who violated the holy day of rest.
Most importantly though, they wore the longest fishermen beanies the world has ever seen with pom-pom and all — and with that they sported the wildest sideburns known to man.
Deeming from the last illustration, the beanies were even red. And you know exactly how we feel about that!
When we set out to design the first ever Red Hat Factory model, we didn’t go looking for the spectacular. Quite the contrary.
Looking at products and heritage items we consider absolute classics, we noticed one commonality. The classic yellow rain jacket, rough worn oak tables, faded leather belts, the knives that my dad has hanging on his wall, that we have used on all my childhood adventures — they all share one trait.
From the outset, we knew we were making a product the old way — the way it’s been done from generation to generation. And wanting to also create a product that would be appreciated for generations, I let my mom take me back in time, showing me an array of basic simple knitting methods and their aesthetics.
I’ve learned through both design and writing, that the creative process often starts with a more bloated product, and then is slimmed down through the cutting off of unnecessary features.
I am sure a lot of you can relate that to your own work. We often over-design — then cut back.
For the first Red Hat Factory cap, we went through 5–10 different models, and model by model we dropped things. First the unique knit pattern along the edge, then the shaped panels that gave an approximate head shape to the product.
Finally, after hours upon hours of work, I dropped a final idea on my mother. “What if we just make the hat a tube, and let the owner shape it by wearing it.”
It sounds boring, but in all its simplicity, it actually worked best.
And the people loved it.
“The quality is amazing, and I know I’ll be able to use it for years to come!”Morten Furre, Australia
“Fantastic quality, durable and stylish. Each Red Hat has been hand crafted with love and attention to detail.”Greg Burkin, Canada
“[The Southlander] is by far my favorite – it’s quality top notch and unlike my other beanies it feels just perfect. Whether you’re dressed up and going out on the town or just heading to the store this is a must for any occasion.”Nathan Pearson, USA
“I am using the Southlander pretty much every day.”Asbjørn Østreim, Norway
“Like a good wine, this gets better with age.”Billy Chester, USA
We knew we had hit something.
Finally the first of what was to become the Southlander was off the needles, knit using the technique called ribbestrikk in Norwegian, and sowed together in an x on the top. Nothing more nothing less.
The tube shape makes it look small when you get it, but once it’s had some time to shape itself to your head, it becomes better fitted to you than any pre-formed shape could bring.
Also, since the cap is a simple tube with no defined edge, you control how you fold it. We have another article that dives deeper into possible folding styles.
From fishermen to carpenters, the simple, yet gritty style of a workman’s beanie has been a hallmark of the hard working craftsman.
Simple is classic.
When we first released the beanies to the webshop, the Southlander was simply named the Rounded. And paired with the simple design and the simple name, came a very simple sketched icon.
The whole brand was built and centered from the historic notion of the old beanie, knit by a wife before she sent her husband out on the sea to haul fish nets in the pouring rain.
While he is out fishing, the woman gets a business idea, and hastily she sketches down a few beanies with her pen. Then she sighs and peers out the window, wondering whether he will return today or not.
Little did that proverbial woman know she was planting the seed of Red Hat Factory to come.
That is the story behind the type of assets we use in the brand to this day. They have evolved a lot, but the style remains. Mom-made. Home made. Simple lines.
The North Cap was at first a failed attempt to cap off the beanie in a round fashion. It became pointier than it was supposed to.
When my quirky brother in law saw it, however, he loved it more than what I considered the final product. I soon realized we needed a second model. Based on the first, but with a touch of different, for the more explorative soul.
In line with the simple brand, we just named it the Pointy Tip.
Its base was, and still is, exactly the same as the Southlander, but it caps off in a peak rather than a half circle, making it the first choice of the ones who wants a basic cap, but with a slight edge to it.
It still is a classic though, and draws much of its inspiration back to the movie The Life Aquatic, which itself draws on the real life character Jacques Costeau.
A long time we only had two models, one color. And I refused every suggestion for additional colors and other products — very purposefully. I felt like if we were going to be the Red Hat Factory, we need to have at least a year, where we are just that — a factory of Red Hats.
As a side note, we aren’t really using a factory — it is true hand knit. But that is a different story.
The third beanie model, the Bay Bee, has a boringly simple history. When a friend, in our early days, asked if we had one for children, we said yes, and made a smaller version of the Southlander.
Not much more to say on that.
There is an interesting feature to the baby model, however. You know how I told you that the wool beanies are very small, and stretches a lot to fit your head. This is just how wool needs to be to properly fit you. On the Bay Bee, this makes the beanie fit from babyhood to 3-4 years old, but look very different at each stage.
You can see we stuck with the simple names, but you’ll notice, the following drawing is a little more polished around the edges than its predecessors. This actually inspired me to rebrand and rename all the beanies in turn.
Most our customers express surprise when they see the size of the new beanie. It is small.
Your average cotton beanie doesn’t stretch a lot, so what you see is what you get. A wollen knit cap will grow with you, and take its shape from your head. In the beginning, the hat can even be a bit slippy for some people, especially when your hair is newly shampooed.
Like a good pair of selvedge jeans, or a new set of leather boots, it needs to be worn in. After that, it will be your most trusty friend.
Many also express surprise at the lack of any brand assets on the cap. You get a Certificate of Authenticity upon purchase, and there will be stickers in the box — but the beanie itself is completely bare.
We chose this because of the history of the brand. Taking the experience of growing up with a knitting mother and bringing it to you. When she knit me a piece, there was no brand. It was pure, just a gift of love from a parent to a child, and therefore we keep the beanies pure.
Washing instructions are found on the web.
With the lack of brand, the texture of the beanie needs to stand out even more, and so it does. We chose wool partly for its features (isolates even when wet), but also a lot because of its look. Gritty and rough, connecting you with the hard worker on the seas a hundred years ago, the construction workers balancing the beams of Empire State Building when it came up, and the kind hands that knit it — stitch by stitch, with care.
Am I calling my own mother an old lady? Not really. But… it wouldn’t have been that bad. In our family age is something we try to honor and are proud of. Age is wisdom, and old age is when you’re entitled to more comfort and respect from those around you.
We believe that older generations have wisdom to pass on to the next one, and we have found a way to include more of that into Red Hat Factory.
“Old lady advice” or — the less flattering translation — “hag advice” is a saying or proverb that has gone from generation to generation. No one knows from when or where it originated, but everyone has heard it.
A good example came early this year, when my Grandmother suddenly exclaimed, as we were dining Norwegian lapskaus: “There’s a difference between daddy and the cat.”
I had to have it explained for me by my mom later that evening. The proverb had been said because I couldn’t eat the dessert (because of allergies). In this proverb I was the cat who’s not getting what’s served at the table. Not everyone should be equally treated — the worker is worth his pay, as they say.
These proverbs were more freely thrown around back in the days, and since we are all about Norwegian traditional knitting, we’ll throw another piece of Norsk culture into the mix.
From 2020 on you will get a handwritten note with a selected piece of old lady advice or an old Norwegian blessing, written in Norwegian with every beanie you order. It doesn’t get more primal than that.
The one in the picture is a classic Norwegian blessing, incorporating old fashioned humor, rhymes, and a reference to a classic toilet.
Spoiler alert: Some are more serious than others.
It is only a few generations since everyone had an “outside-toilet” (utedo). These usually stood (some still do, especially outside the typical Norwegian mountain cabin) on the edge of a precipice or wall, so the waste could gather up in some sort of tank, or area below. This was excellent fertilizer, so grass normally grew rapidly in the general area behind the toilet. This card says “may happiness grow, as grass behind the toilet.” In Norwegian, that rhymes.
If you receive a card, and want the translation and decipher the meaning, you’ll have to chat with us, and that’s just what we want — more connection with you guys. You’re the ones making Red Hat Factory an exciting journey, and we always love hearing from you.
The beanies we sell in store at MacLaren Barbers have been packed in modest slick white packages, with each respective logo stickered on the front. Because of an issue with shipping from Norway, we couldn’t use the same for our beanies through mail.
Now however, I have found some packages that work for international shipping, and we can finally deliver the beanies just as we wanted all along. It has taken some time, because this is a small family business, and many things have been higher on my priority list. But, here it is.
There are actually more ways than you might think, and the choice is all yours.
Our models deliver as a tube that you are free to fold as you like, and the lack of any tags on the edges makes your freedom total.
One thing I’ve noticed through selling beanies all across the world — no one wears it the same, and that is the beauty of it.
With that said we have three basic ways of wearing a Red Hat Factory cap.
The difference between our two most sold models, is only in the very tip. The North Cap is joined tighter to make the tip more sharp. The Southlander, is smoothly rounded. Other than that, the main body of these two beanies are the same, and can be worn in an array of different ways.
The single fold might be worn either over the ear or behind it — in both instances it can be a good look. It is more common to wear the North Cap this way, since it makes the spike more distinct.
Remember, both your head shape and hair style add additional uniqueness to your beanie’s shape.
Probably the most common way to wear a Red Hat Factory cap across the world.
Sophia and Kevin are sporting two Southlanders,
I honestly can’t tell if this picture a roll or a sloppy double fold, but I like the idea of rolling the edge, as opposed to doing sharp folds. And I have seen it done, looking great!
Just to underline how different we are, and how the caps we wear shape to our style and head shape – here is a bunch of people wearing it their way.
Be like them – unlike each other.