Feature Story: Sonoma Wool Company Evolves Its Business Model

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For many small businesses, a web presence is a vital component to a brick-and-mortar location. Sometimes, the web store is the business, from startups to giants in the industry, such as Amazon.

Sonoma Wool Company began business in 2013 selling products online made from sheep’s wool, based on a mission of sustainability and using American-sourced materials and makers. Its success since opening, and the founder’s subsequent move from California to Cape Cod, was a reason behind opening the company’s first retail store at 84 Underpass Road in Brewster.

Amy Chesnut and son Sawyer at Sonoma Wool Company's first retail location in Brewster.
Amy Chesnut and son Sawyer at Sonoma Wool Company’s first retail location in Brewster.

The business was initially a side hack for founder Amy Chesnut, who’d had a successful career in land conservation in California where she had fostered her passion for supporting working lands and agriculture. She got to know sheep rancher Joe Pozzi who had developed a set of standards that defined how the animals are cared for, how the natural resources on the land are cared for and how the wool is harvested from the sheep. Pozzi worked with other ranchers to process wool and sell it to natural bedding companies.

“Joe’s work was making the wool into something viable,” said Chesnut, who was inspired by Pozzi’s efforts.

Chesnut wanted to figure out a way to share what she grew to love about wool – its natural qualities and its practical uses. So, she bought a felting loom, began experimenting with Pozzi Wool and developed the products. In September of 2013, she bought a booth spot at Sonoma County’s Heirloom Festival – and the company was up and running

Why wool?

Integral to Chesnut’s business is her mission to educate people to “Rediscover The Wonders of Wool.” 

For millennia, wool was valued all over the world for its moisture-wicking and heat-retentive properties, which made it suitable to be woven into blankets, clothing, carpets and curtains, and even for use as insulation. It was labor-intensive, requiring many hands to get from animal to product, but it was a process that was non-polluting and sustainable.

During the 20th century, synthetic fibers allowed fabric to be quickly and cheaply mass produced in a factory, requiring less labor. But factory emissions contribute to air pollution, and  synthetic microfibers pollute our waters, and are regularly ingested by animals and humans. Unfortunately, the manufacturing of synthetic fabrics resulted in shrinking the United States wool industry, as did the development of open lands once used for grazing animals.

With people today, worldwide, becoming more aware of the importance of reducing our carbon footprint on the world and using sustainable and recyclable materials, Sonoma Wool Company found a growing market of like-minded consumers. 

“Consumers make choices every day, and when they opt to purchase our products, they are supporting family ranches so they can continue to tend their flocks on wide open spaces in a way that takes care of the land,” said Chesnut.  “It’s a full circle, we’re part of the circular economy.”

The Sonoma Wool Company website is full of information about the “wonders of wool” that would convert the most diehard synthetic fabric fan: it’s 100-percent natural; a renewable resource (once sheared, sheep regrow their wool);, it absorbs moisture, yet repels liquids; releases moisture evenly; regulates temperatures (both heat and cold), keeping you comfortable no matter the season;  resists dirt, stains, mold and mildew; and is completely biodegradable. What’s not to love?

Eastward, Ho!

While her new web-based business was doing well, Chesnut had future plans. She and her family had spent many memorable summers on Cape Cod and she always planned to move there as her parents did after they retired. In 2016, with an aging mother on the Cape, Chesnut felt the time was right to relocate and change her career. 

She moved to Brewster and bought the iconic Brewster By the Sea Inn bed and breakfast on historic Old King’s Highway (Route 6A), while continuing to operate Sonoma Wool Company with her business partner, Joe Pozzi.  In 2019, Amy’s son, Sawyer, and his wife moved to Brewster, and Sawyer took over as the Director of Operations, running the day-to-day activities of the company and steering its steady growth.  

“It’s been a great fit; I find it incredibly satisfying to offer sustainable options that won’t harm the environment now or ever, and I love interacting with so many wonderful people,” chimes in Sawyer.  

Amy’s  bed and breakfast visitors raved about the pillows, comforters and mattress toppers filled with wool batting and, after learning that in Colonial times, a wool fulling mill was located near the current Brewster Grist Mill, her idea for selling her products in a retail shop began to grow.

The one-room shop with a rustic flair opened Dec. 3 and, in addition to viewing products such as comforters in sizes from twin to California king, dish-drying mats, bed toppers, pillows in three degrees of firmness, quilt batts, woven blankets, pet toys, ironing board pads and dryer balls, there’s a nod to wool’s past history with a spinning wheel and a display of raw wool that is not acid-washed like most wool and thus maintains a low carbon footprint in its processing. 

Chesnut sources all the wool from American ranchers and it is washed, carded, felted and sewn in American mills and sewing rooms.

Is opening a retail store a bit of a risk in these days of e-commerce? Perhaps. But actually viewing merchandise and educating consumers in person about buying sustainable wool products hopefully will expand Sonoma Wool Company’s sales and outreach.

“I love talking with folks about wool and having that lightbulb moment when it clicks that wool is healthier for people and the planet.  It’s a simple and elegant solution!”  Chesnut notes. 

The shop will be open through December daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, go to sonomawoolcompany.com. The business has a Facebook and Instagram presence as well.