Catalog Catalog

News from Romania & the Czech Republic
edited by Peter Hagerty, co-founder of Peace Fleece  January 2, 2002

One week before the Sept 11 tragedy I was at Moscow Airport heading home after an unsuccessful effort to find new sources of Russian wool. Just that very morning a prominent Russian wool broker had failed to meet me at the Hotel Minsk. I was very discouraged, tired and somewhat disheveled. I boarded a plane for Prague where I was to meet an Australian who had been very upbeat in his e-mails saying that he would be happy to help me find wool. I was not very optimistic.

Since the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the death of Nickolai Emelianov, the man who first sold us wool back in 1985, it has become more and more difficult for Peace Fleece to source quality wool in Russia. As the centralized Soviet economy sank into a dark abyss, wool brokers hurried to stay afloat. But many were sucked under. For several years we bought wool from the Central Asian republics and the Ukraine but much of this wool was contaminated with a hard burr and to remove it was costly and time consuming. Today the Russian textile mills are up and running and consuming every bit of fiber grown in the country. This is very good for the Russian economy but it is not so good for Peace Fleece.

Enter Simon Neylon, a tall, strapping young Australian who has spent his share of time in a stock saddle riding over the broad expanse of the Australia outback tending large herds of cattle and sheep. His love of the outdoors is matched only by a passion for travel and the challenge of doing what no one has been able to do. So he hitched his horse to a gum tree and headed to Russia and Eastern Europe where he began sorting through the debris of what had once been a textile industry to see if there were any survivors. He found in Romania a Merino sheep with lovely wool and began buying up small lots. He washed and combed the fleeces in the Czech Republic and then offered these wools to the European market. Slowly he began to understand and appreciate the obstacles that stood in the way of people who were trying to change their old ways of thinking and doing business. As a result, Simon became a valuable resource for others struggling to do business in the Eastern European market.

  Simon Neylon

Simon wore a tailored wool suit and towered over the crowd at the arrival gate. He brushed aside my apologies at the way I looked and paid even less attention to my gloomy mood as he began extolling the beauties of Prague, one of the most ancient of capitols of Europe. Simon now works for Lempriere, the oldest family run and owned wool company in Australia. Their office in Prague buys and sells all types of wools and fabric and as we sat enjoying lunch in a small cafe, I slowly began to unwind. I described to Simon how for years I had worked on my own trying to find wool in the former Soviet Republics. If there had been a firm like Lempriere in Russia in those early days I might have sought their advice and council but no such firm existed and I had gone it alone. Now almost 17 years later I was running out of steam. I needed help and Simon was there eager to do what he could.

On a small table in our outhouse in Maine sits a copy of National Geographic Magazine, June 1991. The cover story is about the environmental devastation of Eastern Europe left in the wake of 50 years of war and Soviet occupation. The centerfold is a photo of a shepherd returning to the village of Copsa Mica, Romania with his flock of sheep. Everything is covered in black factory soot, the village homes, the hills, the shepherds face and the wool of the sheep. Everything was black. That was more than ten years ago. Simon now told me that he had discovered a breed of Merino sheep in Romania whose wool was quite beautiful. The sheep were too far away to visit, 2 hours by plane and a long car ride into Romania. But we could go visit the mills in the Czech Mountains where their wool was carded and combed.

  Radko Srsen in front of Helena Mill
Radko Srsen met us in the small office of Helana Mills, in the village of Hejnice. He had been director of the mill for many years and was proud of his factory and workforce. Simon spoke in the Czech language and Radko and I struggled along in Russian. Radko beamed with excitement as he heard about Peace Fleece and proudly showed me the work he had done carding and combing the Romanian wool. It truly was beautiful, creamy white, soft and clean as a whistle. I told him our source of Russian wool was critically low and within minutes his workforce had pressed 40 kgs. into two bales, both small enough for me to bring home as luggage on the plane yet large enough to be part of the spinning of our new fall color, "ancient fern" in the States in 10 days time. Simon promised me that we would visit the sheep and their Romanian shepherds and help with the shearing in the coming spring.

  Young worker, Zdeck, bagging Romanian wool for Peace Fleece
Much has happened since my trip to Moscow and Prague. My two bales of Romanian wool spun up beautifully and an order was quickly placed for 2000 more lbs. In spite of heightened security and the anthrax scare, we were able to successfully import new Romanian wool to Philadelphia where it is now being blended and dyed. I am planning a shearing trip to Romania this spring and eagerly await the adventure. We at Peace Fleece are grateful to Simon and the entire Prague staff of Lempriere for being such a great help and resource as we continue to search in Romania and in Russia as well for high quality wools.