If you follow me on social media you’ll know that I love me some #lambspam. With endless amounts of documentaries and videos showing the grim reality of fast fashion, I was delighted to be invited to Campaign for Wool’s #WoolWander2 to show people exactly how we do it in the UK. Myself and the rest of the team were headed to check out the three native breeds of Cumbria – Rough Fell, Herdwick and Swaledale – to learn exactly what’s going on slightly south of the border. British Wool is something we should all be proud of, and seeing the full process from sheep to shop is nothing far than magical, here’s how we got on.
For as long as we all can remember, Made in the UK has always been the ultimate in luxury, durability, and style within the fashion industry and our wool is no exception. As long as there is grass to graze, every year sheep will produce a new fleece; making it one of our most beautiful sources of sustainable fabric. Shepherds take great pride in their flock, making sure they feel safe and comfortable, forever striving to improve the wool industry for years to come. It wasn’t that long ago that shepherds would get as little as 20p per kilo of fleece, resulting on so much of it being burned or buried. With the prices now up to 60-70p per kilo, it gives farmers a chance to keep on keeping on and constantly improve the sheeps environment, creating better wool for generations. In that heat I’d be wanting my coat off too!
I’ve always been a shop local girl than a chain regular. With all due respect to globalism and my beloved High Street, sometimes you just want to spend your money on things that are a bit more special than off the rack. For me, you can’t get more special than an item from Alison O’Neil, AKA The Shepherdess. Looking after her small flock of Rough Fell and Herdwick sheep, the love she has for flock (and job in general) shines so bright. From getting on with her traditional shepherding jobs, to guided tours (usually barefoot) and being a mother to her daughter, she has completed the cycle by adding designer to her list of many, many talents.
If you’re thinking limited edition and UK Heritage, this is one step further. Alison – or Wonder Woman as I know her as – sheers her own herd of sheep – as seen above – washes it locally, spins it into yarn down the road (a few country miles given the farm distances) and gives it to local the Farfield Mill to produce fabric to create her designs. Really the sheep to shop chain in command doesn’t get closer than this, and it’s super stylist too!
I completely fell for one of Alison’s military designs, inspired by one of her Father’s coats with leather buckle trims, which were also sourced locally, obvs! Made with Herdwick Tweed – native to the Lake District – the herringbone design was created by the natural colour of the wool, which never ended to fascinate me. With it’s classic shape and soft lining, it reminded me of the classic Belstaff jacket rather than what you would normally imagine from that of a country made coat! Watching each stage of the process gave all new meaning to my regularly used #ShopLocal hashtag. Really, it’s Shop Local, wear forever and pass on to the next. Every piece within Alison’s collection is essentially an heirloom in the making. Worth. Every. Penny.
What struck me about The Shepherdess – apart from her never-ending talents – was her air of content and passion about what she does. Wearing a stylish short dress, manicured nails and lipstick, she dished us out some freshly made scones before showing us how it was done on the farm. It was like someone picked us up and placed us in the pages of Country Living, who said Shepherding can’t be glamorous?!
If you’re inclined to support British shops and independent brands at the best of times, shopping for British wool should be at the top of your list. It’s about thinking big while shopping small. It’s about recognising the incredible talent right here, or closer. It’s about gifting your loved ones with little gems they never knew existed. Surely that’s more tempting than another trip to Buchanan Street, right?
Read more about our #WoolWander2 over at Campaign for Wool.