2 +3. Animal Welfare + Our Planet:
A huge part of the way in which I concentrate on the ethics of my business is in the quality of my raw materials, regarding the animals or environments they come from, and these two issues come hand in hand.
Yarns I use have to match up to ethical criteria which includes:
Within the UK, I am delighted that for my 2018 products, I have been able to trace back all of the yarns I use to individual herds of sheep or alpaca, depending on the yarn in question. This process is slow and long, due to the processing quantities required by most spinning mills, many small farms have to have their yarn blended with others in order to meet the minimum order quantity and have their wool processed and spun into yarn. Fortunately, there are now a couple of mills that are able to process in small enough quantities that I'm able to keep track of my fibre, however I have actually been able to go directly to individual farms this year which means that I can get to know the people and animals behind the cones of yarn sitting in my studio. All of my 2018 British yarns are from single farm, traceable, slaughter free smallholdings.
Country of origin:
UK Yarns: British Wool means that I avoid the numerous unethical practices associated with animal welfare overseas, whether this is live transportation, mulesing or the many issues that come with wools such as Australian or New Zealand merino. This is why I do not use Merino Wool. Merino sheep are not native to the UK, and therefore importing this yarn comes with a host of issues and it is not possible to trace this yarn or therefore, find out sufficient information about it. Currently, you could count the number of herds of merino sheep in the UK on the fingers of one hand and these herds are a bit busy with some larger ethical companies doing good stuff. This is why I have opted solely for other sheep breeds and alpaca yarns. This year I have continued to work with Wensleydale and Shetland, whose yarn has numerous overlooked qualities. There is more information on this to come within my ‘Scarf Story’ project.
Peruvian Alpaca: As merino is to New Zealand, Alpaca is to Peru. These animals have buckets of personality, and come in their hundreds dotted across the Andes. Their fibre, 'La Lana De Los Dioses' (Fibre of the Gods) was considered more valuable than silver and gold in ancient Incan society, hypoallergenic, thermoregulating and as soft as cashmere, it's a superfibre that I was always drawn to. However, just as the numerous issues associated with mass produced yarns such as New Zealand merino, Alpaca falls prey to unethical practices over all 3 core areas, people, animals and environments. If you had a look at the project I'm a part of in Peru, you will know that I visited Peru last year to get a look at this myself. It was one of the hardest weeks of my life and it felt many times that this problem would take a lifetime and an army of ethical fashion pioneers to solve. However, I am now the proud supporter of Awamaki in Ollantaytambo, a non-profit World Fairtrade Federation Organisation who have connected a network of women's cooperatives who hand spin, knit and weave with Alpaca yarns from their local community. Awamaki was founded by the amazing Kennedy Leavens and now has a team working with 8 artisan cooperatives, working to empower women and girls with education and financial independence. It has been an honour to talk to Kennedy and to be working with their yarns this year. Click on the link above to find out more about their work. It is still a big ‘if + when’ regarding the manufacture of ‘standardised’ Peruvian Alpaca that is suitable for industrial machine knitting but Awamaki and kindred organisations such as Threads of Peru have made a giant leap forward. Standardised simply means, of a standard to be used industrially or commercially.Watch this space for future trips to Peru to continue this journey.
British Alpaca: As I am in need of standardised yarns suitable for machine knitting I also source British Alpaca. This is affected by the same issues as sheeps wool with spinning mill minimum quantities, but there are two mills that I have found within the UK who work with small farms and I will be sourcing directly from these again in the future. For my 2017 products I worked with an Alpaca smallholding in Devon whose fibre was spun into yarn that is 100% their own using on of the aforemetioned mills. In 2018 and this year, I have alpaca wool from North Wales, where the owners of an alpaca smallholding and ‘mini mill’ have supplied me with their own charcoal and natural white alpaca yarns. This yarn is again, single farm, high welfare and slaughter free.
Cruelty and Slaughter Free/Vegetarian Wool:
As a vegetarian since childhood, it became an issue to me personally that the welfare of many animals in the wool industry was a secondary concern to the quality of the fibre, and this has now become a huge ethical concern, with an increasing community rejecting wool altogether in the name of ethical fashion, and turning to synthetic fibres such as acrylic, whose microplastics are a major player in devastating environmental issues, shedding each time a fabric is washed. I think there's a way of doing wool without cruelty, slaughter and knock-on environmental effects, and I think the wool industry should be mended, not thrown away. This is why I personally, have chosen to source slaughter free wools, these are hard to come by, as struggling farms cannot survive on wool prices alone, but I look for a long time for those people who have been able to make the decision to make that happen, I understand not everybody can do that, but I really love to support those that do . My slaughter free yarns come from a single farm source in Yorkshire where Isobel Davies and Ernest, her shepherd, farm an eclectic mix of breeds including Wensleydale and Shetland sheep.
All of my yarns are either undyed, or dyed either organically or naturally. I purchase all of my yarns in their undyed natural colours and work with organic or natural dye companies on my colours, unless by chance, one of my suppliers has already dyed their yarn organically or naturally. In 2017, I worked with Paintbox Textiles in the textiles hub of Yorkshire who dye my yarns organically to GOTS standards. This year, in order to achieve smaller quantities of yarn and work with natural dye, I am really excited to be working with Moel View Yarn in North Wales. Paula at Moel View is an incredibly talented natural dyer, she works with foraged and botanical extracts and we share our attention to ethics and sustainability. Paula sells her naturally dyed yarns in smaller quantities intended for hand knitting over on her website which you really should go and look at. It’s beautiful.