Listen to the audio version of the article
«There are those who cannot see mountaineering as anything but a means to escape the reality of today. But it’s not right. I do not exclude that some element of escape may temporarily manifest itself in those who practice it, but this must never override the basic reason, which is not to escape, but to achieve”. In the words of the mountaineer Walter Bonatti, the mountain is not elsewhere, but a place of origin and reconnection. A context that in this sense also models new ways of producing and consuming: in fashion, for example, it can mean being aware of the identity of what you wear, of its connections with the environment and with the communities where it is born.
When in 2011 Heiner Oberrauch, president of Oberalp, inaugurated the new, ambitious and sustainable headquarters of Salewa in Bolzano, the mountain clothing brand founded in Munich in 1935 and the most important of the group (with around 150 million in turnover on a total of over 360), wanted to focus on the growth path undertaken by his family since he took it over in 1990. In the project signed by Cino Zucchi and Park Associati, the desire to foster a bond with the territory and the community also passed from a climbing wall, then a social garden open to collaborators and which later became the site of a project for the integration of migrants. Oberrauch reflected on the importance of returning to the origins, to the mountain fabrics such as loden with which his ancestors had started their commercial activity, the first nucleus of what would become a large group with 13 brands. Even further back, going back to the wool of those sheep that for millennia had inhabited the valleys and mountain pastures of Alto Adige, a tenacious wool which, however, those most suitable for trade and global consumption, coming en masse from the other side of the globe, risked make disappear.
«Up until that moment wool had not been a protagonist fiber at Salewa – says Christine Ladstädter, head of research into new materials –, but then we looked around and realized that right here we had everything we needed to tell a new story. history”. What laid the foundations for the TirolWool project, the Tyrolean wool with which Salewa gave shape to its philosophy of reconnection, was a fortunate meeting of passions: that of Oberrauch, that of Peter Veider, former head of the Tyrolean mountain rescue who wanted for the his team of leaders who spoke about the territory, and that of the association of breeders of the spectacled sheep of the Val di Funes (the Villnösser Brillenschaf), looking for a way to restore value to the precious but not very marketable wool of their animals and not be more forced to dispose of it as special waste.
With years of work and research to enhance the properties of wool for sporting purposes, and by setting up a virtuous supply chain that also involved Venetian and Piedmontese textile companies, Salewa has launched products capable of guaranteeing the survival of animals, supporting their farmers, their lands and their centuries-old culture. And if only a few dozen animals lived in Val di Funes just 20 years ago, today there are 700 sheep that give their wool to the Salewa project. Oskar Messner, chef from Funes, also contributed to fueling this recovery and protection project. About fifteen years ago he launched the Furchetta project, to also enhance the prized Villnosser meat by offering it in his Pitzock restaurant, making cured meats from it. Since May 2022, thanks to the vision of Oskar and his collaborators, Val di Funes has become the only valley in Alto Adige to be a Slow Food Travel garrison.
«In our garments we wanted to take up not only a material, but also typical fabrics such as Sarner, a work shirt, enriching them with our cutting-edge technologies such as the Responsive treatment, a recycled polyester yarn that contains minerals capable of increasing the sports performance and promote well-being”, explains Christine Ladstädter. In addition to wool, however, Salewa is also investing in the recovery of the Alpine hemp supply chain, another fiber that was widespread in the area in the past: «It is one of the most sustainable fibers ever – he continues – and in these areas it was the raw material for cordage and tools. It is said that every farm once had its own system for producing it.”