Merino wool makes a black T-shirt cost $75

This is what it takes to sell a plain black t-shirt for $75. From the pitch for the "Empire Merino Tee" from Outlier:
The Outlier crew is back with another future classic. This time they took on the tee shirt. Outlier sourced an ultrafine grade of merino from the Southern Alps of New Zealand, and had it cut and sew in midtown Manhattan, just blocks from the Empire State building. This superior quality merino cools you in the summer, keeps you warm in the winter and looks great all year round. It's so soft and well tailored you'd think you are wearing nothing at all. In other words a tee-shirt fit for an emperor. Outlier named it the Empire Merino Tee after their friends from the forthcoming Empire film, a movie showcasing New York City's fastest and most skilled street riders. Like Empire, Outlier is bringing New York's quality and style to the world of cycling.
I was going to really take them to the mat on this one, but I did some looking around and it appears that really high-end merino wool t-shirts really do go for at least $50. The cheapest one I could find (from Smartwool) is still $35—and that's on sale.
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36 Responses to Merino wool makes a black T-shirt cost $75

  1. Addled_B says:

    I can vouch for the tailoring of the Outlier clothes. Thumbs up.

    I can also vouch for Rivendell. Practically minded and well crafted.

    Both of these companies seem to be designing non disposable gear, and the prices reflect it, but it works out to be a good value due to the longevity and quality

  2. Ernunnos says:

    Yeah, we hate those sweatshops… until it’s time to pay first world prices for a product made in the first world by workers who maybe make enough to live at the bottom of first world standard of living. Then it’s laughably absurd. “Why would I buy that when I can get it cheaper at Wal-Mart?”

    Thanks for the heads up though. I might actually buy one or two of these and test them out through this next Arizona summer. If they’re actually comfortable and durable, they’ll probably be cheaper in the long run. Much well-made clothing is.

    Buy quality. You only cry once.

  3. Anonymous says:

    “…you’d think you are wearing nothing at all. In other words a tee-shirt fit for an emperor.”

    Umm…the emporer has no clothes?

  4. Anonymous says:

    Do the people who think this kind of thing is more “sustainable” really believe that it would be all that sustainable if more than a few trust-fund hipsters?

    Can you imagine the scale of wool production that would be needed to match the production of mass-produced cotton t-shirts? Don’t you think that would have a huge ecological impact?

    Do you actually believe that the waste products, energy usage, transportation costs, etc., wouldn’t be ecologically comparable if these things where actually produced on a larger scale than the luxury-item-cottage-industry that they are produced now?

    Essentially, “sustainability” is the new conspicuous consumption. In a post-scarcity age when consumer items are affordable by everyone (even poor kids in the ghetto are walking around with ipods and “designer” sportswear), the bourgeois have a difficult time displaying their class status through consumption. Thus, the bourgeois deem products that have built in scarcity (i.e. not mass produced, require large amounts of expensive labor or limited exotic materials) as being more “sustainable”.

    Thus, the bourgeois can show how “ethical” they are by consuming expensive luxury items. They get to establish themselves as morally superior to people who can’t afford $70 for a freakin’ t-shirt.

  5. zikman says:

    man, that’s so not true. I have a merino wool sweater from j. crew. my sister used to work there and got it with her employee discount. I wore it one day and rode my bike to campus then to work and boy was I sweating. at least enough to notice that it was the fine, fine merino wool to cause it.

    not good for biking. probably good for other things.

  6. Patrick Austin says:

    Wool is awesome in everything but hot wet weather. I wear wool cycling jerseys and light wool sweaters for exercising and find it much easier to care for than synthetics. I’ve got jerseys that are 3-4 years old, have never been washed and don’t stink (other than the smell of lanolin). As long as you air it out after it gets sweaty, it’s not a problem…oils from your sweat get absorbed and stay in the fibers. My synthetic coolmax stuff gets nasty smelling in a matter of weeks.

    Downside is that it absorbs moisture rather than wicking it off immediately…so it feels wet and heavy. It stays warm, though. Oh, and you wind up smelling like a sheep.

    FWIW, best bargain is the really thin $20-$30 merino wool sweaters they sell at target. Those are my defacto cold weather wear anymore. Two of those and a synthetic long sleeve t-shirt is enough to keep me warmish on a 5 mile -5 degree F run.

  7. Addled_B says:

    A sweater is called a sweater for a reason.

    Try a wool biking jersey?

  8. Jack says:

    How about wearing… TWO t-shirts on top of each other.

  9. The Life Of Bryan says:

    I just scored some merino smartwool a few weeks ago; paid $25 each for $75 shirts at Mast General Store’s end-of-winter clearance sale. I ride to work every day, and really wish I had gotten these three months ago.

    I used to make fun of people in expensive bike jerseys and overpriced long-sleeved t-shirts like these… until I tried them for myself. In the spring and fall I’ll wear my cotton t-shirts with their clever political humor. But in the winter and summer, technical fabrics are where it’s at, no matter what the people in their air conditioned Ford Entitlements think of me. (Oh, and for the record, yes, my bikes have gears.)

  10. mightymouse1584 says:

    yah but look at that bike!

  11. Anonymous says:

    Just a note to point out that people use to wear wool when playing professinal basebal.

  12. cinemajay says:

    Awesome, I would eat my $15 hamburger and dribble grease all over it.

  13. Gilbert Wham says:

    #16: “I love the concept of this stuff, I love the abstract feeling of a universe clothed in this, riding 70’s blue fixed wheels, with flat caps and saddle bags. But really, truly, I need function, form and materials to coalesce into useable, washable, mistreatable garments.”

    Brakes. You forgot those. You really need brakes.

    #25: /applause/ I work for an online retailer of such goods (everything from wholefoods/booze to clothing/CD.s/cooking utensils). You are absolutely correct.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Here in New Zealand, this stuff flies off the shelf for up to $250 for a simple t-shirt. Call it “sustainable”, make people think that they are buying something that’s better and smarter than other people’s regular t-shirts, optionally print the outline of NZ on it… then PROFIT.

    Also, while I’m ranting.. can we please stop making bicycles an elitist fashion accessory?

  15. aj says:

    Perfect when riding a fixie, so when you can’t stop and slam into a parked car, it soaks up all the blood.

  16. markfrei says:

    I have no idea if this t is worth it.

    But materials alone aren’t the whole game with high end clothing. Good construction, and good design are important to some people and they will pay accordingly.

  17. WalterBillington says:

    @10 – I love the “web specials, if any” menu item. I’m sold, love’em, they’re on my list.

    @13 – merino makes me sweat too. So @14 – spot on,it’s not called a “wicker”.

    @15 – must be a NASA guy. Solved it.

    @ everyone – don’t the donors of the wool get cold? Imagine living on the NZ “Alps” and having your winter coat stolen away. Even if it’s just the furry bit under your chin, you’d have a sore throat for months.

    I love this concept, I wish I could believe it could work, but I sit and look at my tech fabric shirts, from eg Castelli (love the scorpion) and Briko, and know that I wear these for cycling, running, sailing and skiing, and that they don’t cost the earth, and I think … hmmm … fixed wheel and merino wool …

    And a big wiki entry for “hipster” hits me smack on the nose, and I recall Prince railing against them, and why.

    I love the concept of this stuff, I love the abstract feeling of a universe clothed in this, riding 70’s blue fixed wheels, with flat caps and saddle bags. But really, truly, I need function, form and materials to coalesce into useable, washable, mistreatable garments.

    So. A $250 merino wool T might just make me cry. It kind of ain’t on the critical path of the development of humanity. It sits in my mind where the Spartans sat – won’t breed with anyone inferior, generational decline, disappearance. Re-emergence somewhere else, sometime else. It’s a panda. A rabbit-hole. A quirk. I bet ET doesnt wear merino wool bike shirts.

    I know this is bb heresy, but those are my feelings, and I need to share.

    However – I’m not all lacking in jollity and fun. I’d love, with an ache the size of Saturn, a helmet from Les Ateliers Ruby. Know that they secretly, exclusively told me they have a project in the works for a full-face unit in Summer 2010.

    After all, chins balance out the face.

  18. HeatherB says:

    #3-But he’s stylish AND saving the environment.

  19. Canuckfornow says:

    I wear merino wool T shirts all summer. No odour!!

    I buy mine for $50 here = VALUE


    Made in NZ and super hard wearing kit.

  20. Anonymous says:

    I love my merino t-shirts, they really are as good as the marketing says. Far superior to cotton as they don’t get clammy when sweaty, nor do they smell after wearing them for one day. Excellent for travel or outdoor adventures. On the other hand, I also buy them on sale – prices ranging from US$25 – US$50.

    Thomas Beagle

  21. Canuckfornow says:

    That website was

    takes you straight to the t shirts

  22. Anonymous says:

    Doubtless the fact that it’s cut and sewn in NY rather than China has an affect on the price too …

  23. kBud says:

    I use merino wool T-Shirts as a base layer and if I had the cash I would own more. A breathable wicking fabric like wool makes more sense than cotton for times when you are exercising. As far as the Merino part of it is concerned, I find wool Extremely itchy, and even so Merino is soft enough to wear next to skin without the itch.

    My favorite part, use a merino base layer under a nicer shirt when going out, that way you can ride you bike to where you are going, remove the base layer when you get there and stay stink-free with the outer layer.

  24. Canuckfornow says:

    Third time lucky on the link eh! Very late here.

  25. vonnegutlives says:

    What’s with the fixed gear? Do I need to have this t-shirt to ride my fixed gear properly? I’m already not fashionable the way it is – my head/hair is too big for those cool cycling caps.

  26. WalterBillington says:

    @30 love ya, gotcha.

    I’m still not sold. Sorry. Technical fabrics smelly? Use bio washing powder. Not smelly anymore. Surely these merino wool jerseys smell? I was at a sheep farm yesterday, and they sure smell. And they’re scary – somehow the quiet malevolence of sheep, with their weird eyes and mob reactions, is very, very disconcerting.

    So for me, they can keep their hairy fur.

    I have two bikes, both have gears. More heresy – aren’t fixed gears designed for track only? And I saw in the Sunday Times Style section recently a whole page on “fixed-gear cool”. It’s apparently a real trend.

  27. Halloween Jack says:

    I would have to buy a hell of a lot of 3-to-a-pack Hanes black T-shirts to match the price for one of these.

  28. The Morgan says:

    Wow, #3, your axe must be really sharp right now.


    Those are expensive? A friend just gave me a Merino T from Theory. I should have expected it was costy. Dude wears a plain Prada jacket that’s made of deerskin and costs more than an overhaul on a Porsche.

  30. gobo says:

    Was just in NZ recently and everyone, everyone wears these. Instead of heavy sweaters, they wear a black Merino-wool T and a light shirt or sweater, and that’s all they need for winter. Most people buy one or two, knowing they’ll last 5-10 years of daily wear.

  31. RacingChikin says:

    All of the outlier stuff is way overpriced, but they’re a boutique. It’s kind of expected. You wouldn’t walk into any other boutique clothier and complain about how their chinos cost 4 times as much as the ones at Wal-Mart.

    As for Merino wool, I wear a lot of it and think it’s perfectly suited for just about everything. I have a few long-sleeved t-shirts made of the same wool and made in the USA and they were 40 bucks apiece. I have a few jerseys that were a bit more and I like them a lot too. I bike to work year round in Chicago and there’s really nothing I like better as a baselayer and an insulation layer. It’s especially good for wet weather because unlike synthetics, wool insulates even when wet.

    Here’s some info on wool jerseys from the brain of Grant Petersen (the guy behind Rivendell bicycles and what used to be Bridgestone Bicycles USA).

  32. mlennox says:

    I use merihno wool long sleeve t-shirt as a base layer and then just a decent fleece lined jacket – I don’t start to feel feel cold until it starts to dip below -5 Centigrade. It might get wet from sweat but you never get cold like you do with cotton, plus you don’t smell as bad at the end of the day – great stuff.

    I’ve never had to pay over €50 for a long-sleeve

  33. jonathan_v says:

    I’m old friends with someone behind Outlier, so I’ll state that upfront…

    They’re passionate about having things well constructed and well made. Their stuff definitely isn’t what I’d wear — but if you look online or at boutiques for other small-run or even high-end designer labels, they’re not really expensive.

  34. AlexG55 says:

    @16: Have you ever been to a sheep farm? They shear the sheep in spring, so they stay cool in summer then the wool’s grown back by the winter. If they didn’t, it would get too long and start getting snagged in things. The thing with merino which makes it so expensive is that shearing them is more time-consuming and skilled than shearing normal sheep, because the skin under the wool is wrinkly and you have to avoid cutting it.

    To those complaining about the environmental cost- the great thing about sheep farming is that it can be done on mountainous land which is useless for most other sorts of agriculture. Wool is (kind of) a byproduct- at least in the UK it’s impossible to make a profit farming sheep just for wool, you need milk and meat as well. The same goes for subsistence shepherds, they live off milk and cheese.

  35. blitzoid says:

    Joel –

    Try Rivendell Bicycle Works – They have a whole bunch of merino clothing, for all seasons, including summer. Their t-shirts aren’t $65, but they are a tiny bit more than smartwool. They are a higher quality, IMO.

    It’s a great company – they take a great lo-fi approach to all things cycling, embracing modern materials and old-world craftsmanship. Their products are more sustainable and environmentally conscious than most, and there is a refreshing honesty to the way they do business. I try to support them when the budget allows.

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