British Wool Textile Revival is Underway

British Wool Textile Revival is Underway
September 25, 2013 Al Baker
Swatch of British wool cloth made by the London Cloth Company

Spinning the first Ally Bee Blog

I am the Founder of Ally Bee Knitwear and I have a passion for spinning a yarn or two from British-grown natural fibre. In this very first blog post, I’ll be casting an eye on the resurgence of British wool in high-end textile production for the luxury fashion market.

British Wool

For centuries sheep have been an integral part of the British landscape and today there are more than 60 pure and cross breeds grazing pasture up and down the country. British sheep are grazed in open, lush pasture and their wool clip provides the raw material for everything from carpet and insulation to bags, woven fabrics and knitwear. And – of course – this local material is renewed annually. Overshadowed for so long by imported Merino, British wool is being rediscovered by high-end designers attracted to the fine heritage, quality and zero-airmile local production in this 100% naturally recurring resource. For those of us having a rethink on fast fashion churn, it’s a good time to look to wool as a valuable home-grown sustainable resource with known-provenance.

British Wool Textile Revival

On my recent fashion meanderings, I’ve found a treasure trove of high-end British wool textiles. Last week I was a the world’s leading textiles trade show, Premier Vision, in Paris to meet British textile producers doing a roaring trade in high-end woven textiles crafted from British-grown wool.

First stop was Harris Tweed Hebrides. Harris Tweed Hebrides craft high-end hand-woven cloth from yarn spun from the clip of British Cheviot and Scottish Blackface sheep. Sales Manager, Roddy Martin, described business as better than ever and they are working to capacity to fulfil orders from all over the world. With exquisite attention to detail, all Harris Tweed is woven by hand using a manually powered loom. Once finished and examined independently, each end of fabric receives a seal of authenticity. Top designers who have fallen in love with Harris Tweed in recent times include Margaret Howell, Celine, Paul Smith and Brooks Brothers.

Also exhibiting was Alexanders of Scotland whose woollen fabrics include a range made from British Shetland wool spun in-house. Benefiting from both in-house spinning and weaving facilities, Alexanders can assure quality control from the point the raw fleece hits the mill to the end textile product.

And there was  Savile Row’s Holland and Sherry, who boast a top luxury line of rare British merino cloth. Merino sheep are known as a tricky breed to keep in the British climate. Holland and Sherry claim exclusive rights to the clip of a rare flock of merino sheep pampered on a secret location in Scotland. “The flock is grazed somewhere in the west of Scotland where the weather is not as harsh,” says Alan Morton, careful not to reveal the exact location of the flock. (Did I look like I wanted to poach one?) The sample swatches of this limited line of cloth are deliciously soft with an understandably luxurious price tag to match.

British Wool in a spin

On the wool research trail, this week I also visited Future Fabrics Expo at London’s Olympia. Definitely the busiest corner of the expo at the SVP off-shore fashion manufacturing expo, the Future Fabrics Expo run by Sustainable Angle showcased hundreds of fabrics selected for their low environmental impact, with special attention to Made in Britain and British woven textiles and tweeds.

Featured were gorgeous samples from Holland & Sherry, Marling and Evans, Laxtons and Dashing Tweeds sporting British wools in the full range of natural colours, and the London Cloth Company. Sourcing wool spun in Halifax from the fleece of conservation flocks across the British Isles, the London Cloth Company in Hackney weaves a range of 100% British wool tweed on reclaimed Victorian machinery rescued and restored by owner Daniel Harris. Only open for business since 2011, the London Cloth Company list of bespoke runs for the fashion industry already includes a collaboration with Ralph Lauren. Impressive!

With some statistics claiming Merino imports amount to up to 97% in UK wool consumption, it is heartening to know British wool is back on the table as a key ingredient in a fine tradition of textile production for a market that values quality, known-provenance and, increasingly, sustainability in fashion sourcing. Long may it continue!

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