Give fleece a chance

Country Life Every Week - - Contents -

The words ‘lo­cally sourced’ are now al­most stan­dard on the menu of any res­tau­rant or pub worth its salt. Yet, al­though many of us care very deeply about the prove­nance of what we eat, we are more lais­sez faire about what we wear, sit on and sleep be­neath.

Thanks to ini­tia­tives such as the Cam­paign For Wool’s Wool Week, which kicks off on Monday (Oc­to­ber 10), this is be­gin­ning to change. For all of us, it will serve as a re­minder that, al­though there’s noth­ing wrong with syn­thet­ics— in fact, they’re vi­tal to mod­ern life—there’s also a huge amount that is right about nat­u­ral ma­te­ri­als.

When the Cam­paign For Wool was launched by The Prince of Wales on a chilly morn­ing in Jan­uary 2010, at Wim­pole hall in Cam­bridgeshire, the chal­lenge of pro­mot­ing the ben­e­fits of the ma­te­rial to re­tail­ers and con­sumers, still reel­ing from the fi­nan­cial cri­sis, seemed a steep hill to climb.

Last month, mem­bers of the farm­ing, fash­ion and in­te­ri­ors in­dus­tries from around the world con­verged on Dum­fries house, for a con­fer­ence hosted by The Prince, de­scribed as the ‘Davos of wool’. Among other things, delegates were in­vited to sup­port and com­mit to a dec­la­ra­tion to ‘pro­tect the en­vi­ron­ment, up­hold the best pos­si­ble prac­tices for sheep wel­fare, grow­ing, trad­ing, man­u­fac­tur­ing and sell­ing wool and wool-re­lated prod­ucts’.

It was clear to any­one at the con­fer­ence that, so far, the cam­paign’s achieve­ments are sig­nif­i­cant; as The Prince pointed out, ‘in gen­eral terms, wool prices are higher; sheep num­bers are sta­ble in most mar­kets; de­sign­ers are us­ing more wool and there is a greater appreciation of wool’s many ex­cel­lent qual­i­ties’. Cen­tral to the cam­paign’s suc­cess is the fact that con­sumers now un­der­stand the ben­e­fits of a fi­bre that is re­new­able, biodegrad­able, breath­able, re­silient, a nat­u­ral in­su­la­tor and fire re­tar­dant. It also looks and feels beau­ti­ful. A re­search lab­o­ra­tory has yet to cre­ate a ma­te­rial with all th­ese prop­er­ties.

In the past, those in­volved in the cut and thrust of high-street re­tail­ing, with an eye on the bot­tom line, might have be­lieved that th­ese qual­i­ties were of lit­tle in­ter­est to con­sumers buy­ing clothes, fur­ni­ture, tex­tiles, bed­ding and car­pets. But that’s no longer the case—now, it seems that a grow­ing num­ber recog­nises the ben­e­fits of wool, just as peo­ple recog­nise the at­trac­tion of or­ganic food, a mar­ket which grew by 5% last year, to hit £1.95 bil­lion.

Any­one who dis­cov­ers the tac­tile joys of nat­u­ral ma­te­ri­als such as wool, linen and tim­ber tends to de­velop a life­long re­la­tion­ship with them; not only do they age beau­ti­fully, they also en­hance our ex­pe­ri­ence of ev­ery­day life. The fact that they can all be pro­duced eth­i­cally and sus­tain­ably sim­ply adds to the feel-good fac­tor.

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