It might seem strange to make a living out of balls of wool made to look like sheep, but that’s exactly what Sarah Turner has done.
Sarah, from Ilkley, had a high-flying career as marketing manager for HSBC.
But when her two little girls, now four, came along she decided the job was not compatible with having a family.
“When my youngest was just one we decided to have some work done our house and so moved into a two-bedroom flat with hardly any space,” explains Sarah.
“With two small girls we made a lot of washing and nowhere to dry it so I had to use the tumble drier. Conscious that I wanted to make it as eco-friendly as possible I used the plastic drying balls to speed to process up but the noise in our tiny flat was unbearable.”
Sarah decided there had to be a better way.
Having learnt felting skills from scratch, inspired by a local make and sell craft market, alongside gaining tips from others on social media such as Pinterest, she realised that you could make dryer balls out of wool.
“I am completely self taught and really just worked out how to make them. They are 100 per cent British wool which is a natural deodorant and works brilliantly.”
The wool tumble dyer balls are a natural alternative to fabric softeners as well. Handmade in Yorkshire from 100 per cent British wool, the dryer balls are chemical free, relying instead on their native lanolin content to naturally soften clothes.
Organic and bio-degradable, they provide a planet-friendly alternative to their plastic prototypes – and also support native and rare sheep breeds along the way.
But Sarah didn’t just stop at plain old wool balls, she decided to turn her balls into different breeds of sheep and Little Beau Sheep was born.
“I love the Yorkshire Dales and so I started with Swaledales which are found on Ilkley Moor near where we live and then moved on to other breeds.” She even has a sheepdog, and people can come up with their own ideas to customise the sheep.
Sarah started selling her sheep on Etsy, the online site for small businesses, and they were immediately in great demand, from an unlikely source.
“I have an awful lot of requests from America and Canada,” says Sarah. “I think people who have visited Yorkshire want a little bit of it to remind them of their visit.”
Demand is so high for her eco dryer balls and more recently her felted sheep soap, that she has recruited other mums to help her keep up with demand.
She has also extended her range to include more laundry products and natural bathroom treats.
As well as been a green product, there are also health benefits, says Sarah.
“My daughter had extremely dry skin and we found that the natural lanolin in the wool really helped.”
She now has a range of pure lanolin balm on her website.
However success brought with it a dilemma for Sarah, who is also president of the Ilkley BlueBelles Women’s Institute.
“At the moment, Little Beau Sheep’s dryer balls come in packaging in a plastic box. This lets customers who come to see me at events decide which sheep tickles their fancy. Will they go for a Whitefaced Woodland, Suffolk or Zwartble or indeed any of the adorable characters in my multi-breed flock?
“It’s also robust enough for postage in the UK and overseas, so seemed the perfect solution. Along with the fact it was recyclable plastic initially seemed a good solution.
“Since Little Beau Sheep started, however, we’ve all learned a lot more about the disastrous effect of plastic on our planet and especially our amazing oceans. That’s why I want to do what I can to be part of the solution and not the problem
“Also being in the WI we have a campaign to End Plastic Soup aimed at reducing the growing amount of microplastics found in our rivers and seas.
““One of the shocking truths I’ve learnt is that even when plastic is recycled it often ends up in clothing fabric which when washed, sheds into the water system and our seas.
“Who can’t feel sad and angry at the fact there will be more plastic than fish in the seas by 2050?
“The only solution seems to be ending the use of plastic.
“With people’s help, I can do that with Little Beau Sheep and do my bit to keep the world a better place for all of us. ”
She has launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise £2,000 to enable her to redesign her packaging into cardboard packaging.
Within a day of the campaign going live she had raised three-quarters of her total including £1,000 as a winner of “What’s your idea?” competition from Crowdfunder and GoDaddy.
Supported by Business is GREAT Britain and Capital IFX, Sarah entered the exporting category and won the £1,0000 investment.
Sarah hopes that with the support of people power she will have her new plastic-free packaging ready for early next month.
“Whatever happens, one thing will stay the same: I’ll proudly be flying the flag for a British wool,” says Sarah.
“Described as ‘a miraculous material’ by none other than Prince Charles, British wool has an amazing history, especially here in Yorkshire.”
Crowdfunding rewards backers as a way of thanking them for their support when trying to raise investment for a new idea.
Supporters can pledge from as little as £5 and receive rewards from Little Beau Sheep that range from a set of dryer balls, to the opportunity to design your own dryer balls or attend a needle-felting workshop to make your own laundry ball while enjoying afternoon tea in Yorkshire.
The crowdfunding campaign can be viewed at crowdfunder.co.uk/littlebeausheep runs until March 28.
As well as her range of sheep dryer balls and felt soaps, Sarah also sells essential oils on her website and lanolin hand washes and lotions.
Prices start from £6. Sarah recommends using a minimum of three of her sheep dryer balls in a medium tumble dryer load.
For more information on Sarah’s products and to read her blog which includes tip son how to reduce plastic use visit www.littlebeausheep.com