Ali Wanchap Wood’s epiphany struck on Mount Kilimanjaro. A seven-week trip to Africa with her sister saw them join a horseback safari in Botswana and hike into the jungle to see gorillas in the wild in Rwanda, but it was in Tanzania, climbing Africa’s highest mountain, that Wanchap Wood decided she wanted to fly.
“I’ve always wanted to get my pilot’s license,” she explains. It was the revelation she needed to shake things up back home, and her search for a flying school kicked off a chain of events that saw her move to Newcastle, leave her career in fashion PR behind in Sydney and launch the knitwear label she had been planning for almost five years, Jude Australia.
“The idea was all inspired by my family,” Wanchap Wood says of her range of luxurious, Australian made Merino wool jumpers and blankets. “I spent childhood holidays at my grandparents’ wool farm in Northern New South Wales, always around the shearing shed. My grandmother knitted and made jumpers so I always had such a nostalgic respect for wool.”
The hand-spun and hand-knitted label, Shirbaa, Wanchap Wood’s grandmother Barbara set up with her sister-in-law, Shirley, in the 1980s has been a big influence. And a new generation is lately able to experience the wonders of wool. In addition to getting her business off the ground, Wanchap Wood found time to marry and have Otis, an inquisitive 4-month-old baby boy she wraps lovingly in her Jude baby blankets.
Along with the benefits that come from wrapping “your little bundle” in a soft, natural fibre, Wanchap Wood likes to think of her baby wraps as items to treasure. “A woollen blanket can last a lifetime. My mum keeps all of our Shirbaa knitwear in a camphor wood chest, and we have them as precious family heirlooms – the types of things to keep forever.”
There is a timelessness to Jude designs. While Wanchap Wood wasn’t design-trained, she knew exactly what she liked and what was missing in the market when she started out. “Easy luxury. That’s always been the aesthetic of Jude. I wanted to reflect my style with simple pieces that endure season to season, classics but something young and fresh.”
Jude’s ethos is to create enduring pieces from Merino wool, to support Australian woolgrowers by bringing a fibre she considers to be the best in the world into everyday use. “It’s all about the fabrication. It’s all about the quality of the wool. I wanted to let the fibre speak for itself in Jude’s unique colours,” she explains. The bright buttercup yellow cable knit blanket she has tucked around Otis underlines her point.
Now, living not far from Newcastle’s beaches with Otis, partner Drew, and Bosley the English Cocker Spaniel, a growing business and a helicopter license under her belt, Wanchap Wood is content. There are just a few major home renovations to complete. “I can’t be standing still for too long,” she laughs. “I don’t know why I do this to myself but it always seems to work out in the end…I love the challenge.”
To see and shop Jude Australia and find out more go to www.judeaustralia.com