Wool: Spinning back into fashion
Is wool finally back in fashion? Is it possible that the time has come to snuggle up to a material that has, for at least forty years, been out of favour? After years of being out in the cold, almost destroyed by competition from cheaper overseas rivals and the trend for innovation of synthetic fibres, the wool industry in Britain is making a comeback in more ways than one, from Stitch and Bitch groups who have turned a hobby into a business to a new fascination from luxury fashion houses such as Ralph Lauren, Chanel and Burberry.
Once a staple clothing material, the wool industry started to decline in the 1960s and ‘70s when cheaper man-made fibres took off. Wool earned a reputation for being old-fashioned, and the development of central heating during that era meant that people no longer had to rely on heavy cardigans and sweaters – also considered itchy and uncomfortable – to keep warm.
Gradually, finer wools came into fashion, and today, it is synonymous with luxury in many people’s minds (think Chanel tweed or Savile Row suits). This has led to an increasing demand for the fabric I that is not only used among luxury houses but is also available on the High Street at low prices. As a result, exports have increased and local businesses have expanded. There are now more than 140 operational mills in the UK, and figures from 2007 t0 2010 show that sales have rocketed from £180 million to over £270 million in under five years.
The boom in the industry can be credited to the support from designers and fashion houses, such as Paris-based fashion house Chanel, who bought the Scottish Barrie Knitwear mill out of administration in 2012, and British designer, Giles Deacon, whose Autumn Winter 2014 collection featured chunky, hand-knitted sweater dresses, extra-long striped scarves and a selection of mittens. Co-designed by Wool and the Gang, the exceptional knitwear on display was all made with sustainably-produced Peruvian yarn.
Tweed has consistently been featured heavily on the catwalks at Chanel, although this year, it has also proved to be a major trend at Marc Jacobs and Michael Kors along with retailers such as Jigsaw, Topshop and Marks & Spencer. Last August, M&S launched a range of items mostly fashioned from wool. And, of course, there remains the nascent global desire for high-quality woollen clothing that bears the all-important “Made in Britain” label.
These key changes in trends show that wool has fully developed since the early days of the Industrial Revolution – when spinning and weaving were mechanised, and Yorkshire and Scotland became important manufacturing centres – to fit a modern world. Today, there are groups such as Wool and the Gang, who not only encourage an interest in knitting, but also insist on using clean supply chains because they care deeply about the well-being of the animals involved in the production of their wool.
Such groups are important otherwise a generation of consumers will grow up knowing nothing about wool, where it comes from, how it’s manufactured, and why it’s so special. In tune with this, the International Woolmark Prize, re-launched in 2008, celebrates the best emerging talent in designer products with wool. It has also helped launch illustrious careers, namely Yves Saint Laurent, who won the dress category in 1954, or Karl Lagerfeld, who was awarded for his coat designs. Wool has always been such an integral part of British history, yet along the way, it is essential that new techniques are constantly being implemented to modernise this traditional fibre.
This text on Wool was written and submitted by Kati Chitrakorn for Round 2 of Modeconnect’s International Fashion Writing Competition. Check Kati’s entry for Round 1: How the Digital Revolution impacted on the presentation of fashionand its criticism