Ethical Knitwear: I am preoccupied with the necessity for ethical fashion and the way in which my work can affect three core areas: people, animals and natural environments, positively, not negatively. I have written the information below in regards to each of these three core areas.
I am currently working on documenting my process to share with you along with each individual product, the first edition of this project, called 'Scarf Story', is due in the Autumn of 2018 and if you would like to sign up for updates, you can do so using the link above.
All of my making is currently completed within the UK, I knit the majority of my products at my home studio in Cardiff, South Wales, using a hand operated domestic knitting machine and hand knit techniques. A very small selection of my items have previously been knitted by digital knit machines in studios in Leicester and Devon which I oversee in person. UK and in-house manufacture ensures that I avoid unethical practice within my knitting production.
I am also passionate about affecting change within supply chains in developing countries, and working for a fashion revolution. In a rural area of Peru named Antauta, 'The Antauta Knitters' are a skilled women's group of spinners and knitters who farm alpaca in their mountain town and we hope to make another drop in the ocean with our work there. If you would like to know more about this, you can read about it here
2 +3. Animals + Environments:
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 working to ensure I can 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. Luckily, 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, which means that I can get to know farms where animal welfare standards are high enough and therefore know those animals are healthy and happy. However, in cases where this is not possible, I always make sure that the wool is certified British Wool.
Country of origin:
UK Yarns: As mentioned above, I am working to ensure all of my UK yarns are traceable back to herd they came from, or that the yarn is certified British Wool. British Wool certification means that I avoid the numerous unethical practices associated with animals overseas, whether this is live transportation, mulesing or the many issues that come with Australian or New Zealand merino. This is why I will not be using merino wool within my products from 2018. 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.
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 Fairtrade Federation organisation who have connected a network of women's cooperatives who hand spin 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 about getting 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.
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 mills but there are two mills that I have found within the UK who work with small farms and I source directly from these, details of these mills are coming soon. Last year I was working with an Alpaca smallholding in Devon whose fibre was spun into yarn 100% their own, and this year I am heading up north to a slaughter free small holding in Northumberland, details of this are coming soon.
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 chosen to lose money and land in order to make that happen, I understand not everybody can do that, but I really love to support those that do . As mentioned above, my British Alpaca supplier in Northumberland is a slaughter free smallholding, and I also work with Izzy Lane, a wonderful slaughter-free yarn and knitwear company in Yorkshire who supply Shetland and Wensleydale yarns.
All of my yarns are dyed either organically or naturally. I purchase the majority 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. Over the past year I have been working with Paintbox Textiles in, the textiles hub of Yorkshire who dye my yarns organically to GOTS standards. This year I am very excited to be working with two natural dye companies, one of which, run by my some dear friends of mine, is very close to my heart: Amma, which means 'mother' in Tamil, works with women in rural Sri Lanka to provide employment and training in practical textiles skills. Josie, a talented weaver and natural dyer, has opened a workshop in Nuwara Eliya, where she works with a growing team of natural dyeing mum's, using ingredients collected from food waste and local natural dye plants. They are amazing, go read about them and buy their beautiful products. I will be receiving my first batch of dyed yarns from Amma in June 2018, and I can't wait. News of my second natural dye company is coming soon.
Within my process of sourcing these raw materials I have to be scrupulous, and thanks to this I work primarily with small businesses, where traceability can be simpler and a realistic aim, I aim to provide all of the contact details that I can at any given time, however please be aware that the sourcing of my yarns is an ever changing process of working with small suppliers and is dependent on demand and available resources and therefore information about my suppliers does change according to which yarns I am able to work with at any given time. All contact details and supplier information for this Autumn's products will be included in 'Scarf Story', due this Autumn. Your Suzanna James Knitwear product will always come with an exact breakdown of the yarns included, so that if anything is new or differs from the information here, you know about it, but the fundamentals here will never change, and my yarns will always be ethically sourced, with the three core areas of people, animals and the environment as the highest priority.
My yarns have already gone through this highly involved bespoke process from field, to spinning mill and dye lab before they begin to be knitted, and are an art in themselves, when it comes to my part, I can work with them and admire them in the knowledge that I have made my supply chain as short as possible and I have the facts for every part of it.
I believe that we can make ethical mainstream. The fashion and textiles industry employs 1 in 6 people worldwide, making it the most labour intensive industry worldwide, and is the second highest polluter in the world, with only the oil industry beating it. Millions of people, animals and environments are being negatively affected by that industry and that makes it an issue that needs solving right now. If you would like more information regarding issues of ethics in the fashion industry and why it's essential to affect change now, I highly recommend 'The True Cost' documentary, which you can see here and read more about here.
My work is a tiny part of this necessary revolution, but I can see that whether the industry changes 1 person, animal or environment at a time or by the thousand, that change is happening. Thank you for reading and for your interest in Suzanna James Knitwear and ethical fashion.
To receive more information about the story of my products you can sign up to my ‘Scarf Story’, interviews and photographs from shepherds, spinning mills, dyeing companies, and farmers will be available from Autumn 2018, you can also follow me on Instagram by heading to my profile using any of the pictures below for sneak peeks of my ‘Scarf Story’ project.