From Sheep to Chic
Wool has been a part of British heritage for as long as time can remember; from shearing to spinning the UK has guarded wool furiously. The staple fibre used to be an essential to everyday life, used for warmth and protection. But now as the fashion industry booms this once modest material is seen as a luxury good ‘because of the demand for natural fabrics is rising in Europe, China and other parts of Asia’. (1) We have seen a rise in production as all things wool come spinning back into fashion. It is a large part of the history of British design and arguably the British fashion industry owes a lot to the humble woolly jumper.
The growth of popularity and trend for synthetic fibres over the past forty years almost killed off the British Wool industry. Fast fashion and the need to supply an ever-increasing demand for these new fibres meant that craftsmanship slowly deteriorated . Mass production and consumer growth has been a deadly combination when it comes to appreciating a skilled profession. However it is back as we once again have a fashion affair with all things woollen as the renaissance of British Wool takes place.
The Woolly jumper knitted for a child, passed down from generation to generation, holds meaning to an individual but the wool industry holds meaning to a nation. It is easy to see why the nostalgia of wool makes it so easy for us to snuggle down with this charming re-emerging trend. Tracing back to its origin it is unusual that a garment is grown, manufactured and sold all in one place. That is the unique thing about wool from sheep to chic is it all produced here in the UK; all the processes involved in its manufacture are home bred. From the country farmers that sheer the sheep, the mills that process and spin the yarn, all the way to the busy streets of London where luxury good companies and the finest Saville Row tailors cut the prestigious fabric. It all takes place within the confines of Britain, if you want something home grown wool is the answer. Large companies such as Chanel, Burberry, Jigsaw and J Crew have all moved their woollen good manufacture to the UK (2), bringing it back to its heritage, something that these companies promote in their brand.
The fashion industry is evolving at a rapid pace. We are a materialistic generation. Conspicuous consumption is telling us to buy and with clothes readily available and affordable it begs the question why spend more? Wool answers that question, its natural, renewable, sustainable and biodegradable – it is a quality fibre that looks after itself. In an industry where most fabrics are created by chemicals here we have a natural fabric that is chic, on trend, and has triumphed in the face of fashion time and time again. We now take on a ‘Global endeavour initiated by its patron, His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, in order to raise awareness about the unique, natural and sustainable benefits offered by wool.’ (3)All this promotion by Campaign for Wool, WoolMark and events such as national Wool Week will only strengthen the foundations of a comeback for such a valuable material worldwide.
The luxury of wool repels the ideology of fast fashion; it juxtaposes everything that fast fashion stands for. Craftsmanship, heritage and pride go into a woollen item and that is what the British industry is about. As fashion develops and individuality increases we see one item that stands the test of time – so perhaps there is hope for a society built on materialistic items as they can still appreciate the quality and history of wool leading to it its resurgence in popularity.
This text on Wool was written and submitted by Katie Booth for Round 2 of Modeconnect’s International Fashion Writing Competition. Check Katie’s entry for Round 1: Fashion for al: A material society