One of my first jobs as a design executive at the beginning of my career was to accompany the CEO of a big high street brand to lay off 2,500 employees at a textile mill on the borders. These were skilled workers in a factory producing millions of pounds worth of knitwear for the UK market, and the loss of those jobs not only had a detrimental effect personally on those workers, but also on a wider socio-economic scale for the British textile industry. This is just one story of many within the industry, which suffered great losses during the 1980s and 90s, unable to compete with cheaper manufacturing from abroad and the unprecedented increase in the mass-produced ready-to-wear consumables that dominate the fast fashion high street and online shops today.
That incident really had a profound effect on me and made me acutely aware that design does not happen in a vacuum. As a designer it is imperative to understand that you are just a small part of a much bigger picture, and to be aware of the viability and cost at all levels of the business from manufacturing to the end consumer.
Having the opportunity much later in my career to launch my own yarn, the need to support British skills and traditions and to promote indigenous materials was fundamental to the brand ethos. I am extremely proud that my latest yarn launch, Wool Local, is just that. Starting at the British wool auction in Bradford, the wool is scoured, combed, spun, dyed, steamed and hanked in the county of Yorkshire. From fleece to finished yarn in less than 50 miles.
And it’s not just about the manufacturing. The wool itself is a homegrown product and one of the most sustainable, natural fibres out there. Wool has been used and celebrated for thousands of years for its unique properties of insulation, protection against the elements and renewability. Indeed as long as there is grass to graze, water to drink and sunshine, sheep will produce a fleece each year. Sadly up until about only 10 years ago British farmers were burning fleeces, as their value was not sufficient to take the product to market. Thanks to the Campaign for Wool, launched in 2010, which promotes the benefits of wool globally for many different industries, this has changed and the cost of wool has risen to be able to support the farmers’ livelihoods.
Choosing British wool was a natural choice for me in an effort to work only with natural and sustainable fibres. Wool is 100% biodegradable, which means that at the end of its useful life, wool can be returned to the soil or marine environment where is decomposes, releasing valuable nitrogen-based nutrients back into the ground or ocean. Furthermore research shows that the average life of a wool garment is 2 to 10 years, compared to 2 to 3 years or less for garments made from other fibres. We all need to be buying less and being made more aware of where things go when we dispose of them. The fashion and textile industries have a huge responsibility. As knitters and crocheters we are a part of the slow clothes movement. Craft is as much about the process as the final result, so when choosing a yarn to knit with its important that it has a good hand feel and crafts beautiful garments to be worn and cherished.
Wool Local is made from an intimate blend of luxurious Bluefaced Leicester and hardwearing Masham. In a fine 4ply weight, this is a truly local wool, with its roots in the heartland of British textile manufacturing.