Not many people know that, although the finest cloth in the world is still woven in the long established mills of West Yorkshire, British wool plays no role in this: 100% of the Merino fibre used in this coveted fabric is imported from across the globe - from Australia, New Zealand or, increasingly, from China.
The coveted Merino breed originates in Europe, where it was first kept by the kings of Spain. Later, they were also kept in Saxony and Britain, before Australia and New Zealand were discovered for their vast pastures and mild climate in the late 1800s, and the tradition ended. Ever since, Merino wool has been imported to the UK from the far side of the globe, to be woven into the fine cloth the British woollen industry is famous for.
To find a more sustainable source for the wool, the British government conducted research into the re-introduction of the Merino breed in the UK. The breed that was successfully developed for this research is a mix of 75% Saxon Merino and 25% Shetland, making it hardy for the Scottish climate. Although successful, the project was abandoned before the wool was put to use in a product, when funding dried up.
WHY IT MATTERS
Importing wool from overseas is hurting not just UK sheep farmers, whose fleeces fetch only a relative pittance, but the British wool industry as a whole. Scouring, carding, spinning - processes the Northern mills invented and refined over decades - are now being carried out ‘on the way’, in low labour cost countries on the shipping route. Mills in the heartlands of the British textile industry are closing down as a result.
The Scottish Merino sheep still exist. It took me the best part of 18 months to build a relationship with the five individual growers who keep the descendants of the original flock of Scottish Merinos in the Borders region. Their wool has been graded at the highest fineness level available (141), certified by the British Wool Marketing Board and can easily compete with fleece imported from overseas.
Not having had initially planned to produce a cloth myself, I purchased their 2016 ‘clip’ (=wool harvest) and commissioned one of the country’s long established mills to weave the prototype for the fabric I was unable to find:
The first fine suiting cloth with a 100% British production chain. R. Gledhill Ltd., spinners of fine woollen yarns for over 80 years, located in Delph, on the Yorkshire border, embraced the project and oversaw the processing of the precious wool, from scouring to finishing. I took delivery of the first bolt last week and can say the cloth has exceeded expectations in terms of fineness, softness and drape. It really is in a class of its own.
Weighing in at just under 12oz, and being incredibly soft to the touch, the new cloth is a perfect all-year suiting material. The scarves will delight you with their soft drape and beautiful colours.
Everything is now in place to bring the cloth to the market, but I need your help to fund the next stages of the project: your pledge will go towards purchasing the next available wool, to create a brand and dedicated website. And nothing else.
The rewards are available now and will be shipped the moment the campaign reaches its funding goal, in good time for Christmas.
There is only a limited supply of this extraordinary wool each year. The 2016 clip was used to produce this first batch of products. When it's gone, it's gone.
£10 - Original Photo signed by a Sheep (with a hoof print):
£15 - Set of Cloth Swatches, in a beautiful booklet:
£20 - One of six Original Hand Loom Samples:
£40 - Limited Early Bird Offer: 100% Scottish Merino Scarf (pick one colour):
£50 - 100% Scottish Merino Scarf, in one of four colours:
£60 - Xmas Pack: Gift Voucher & 100% Scottish Merino Scarf in Feb 18
£75 - The Great Northern Cloth, in one of four colours:
£90 - Colour Pack of Two Scarves (pick two colours)
£175 - Colour Pack of Four Scarves (all four colours)
£300 - A Master Class in Bespoke Tailoring
£300 - Bespoke Skirt
£375 - Bespoke Waistcoat
£475 - Bespoke Trouser
£1500 - Bespoke Ladies' Jacket
£1600 - Bespoke Gents' Jacket
Photography and video @withloveproject
Risks and challenges
******* UPDATE: following overwhelming support for the project, and reaching the funding goal a day after the launch, I have been able to secure this year's clip of the wool, as I promised I would if the campaign would reach its funding goal.
This allowed me to list more rewards in form of the hugely popular scarves. These are now in production and scheduled for shipping in February. All producers involved are working towards achieving this goal, however a small risk of delay, as is common in every manufacturing process, remains.
All rewards are in place and / or will be delivered in the form of bespoke services by myself. Rewards in form of scarves and cloth are ready to be shipped in good time to arrive at recipients before Christmas.
Rewards in the form of bespoke services will be delivered within weeks to months following reaching the funding target. I do not have to rely on third parties to deliver the rewards.
A business plan is in place for bringing the product to the market, which is the goal of the crowdfunding campaign.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (28 days)