From Masham with love as Nearly New Cashmere Co launches beautiful AW23 reconditioned knitwear and opens new shop and HQ on the Swinton Estate
It might seem an unlikely setting for a burgeoning fashion brand, but Masham is where the magic happens. Here, in one of North Yorkshire’s most picturesque pockets, Ali Orr, assisted by a team of skilled locals, turns old cashmere designs into new. Nearly new, that is.
This transformative company is called Nearly New Cashmere Co and it restores and recycles discarded cashmere pieces into pristine new-looking ones, sold for a fraction of what they would cost new, and so far saving tens of thousands of jumpers, cardigans and more from going to waste.
Being pre-loved, each piece of cashmere is unique and therefore each has to be photographed separately for the website, which now sells 20,000 pieces a year. “Our models are ladies who live in our local community," says Ali as she shows me around the studio, where new medium model Liz is standing before a screen in a luxurious-looking taupe cashmere sweater.
She is one of a team of eight locals who come in to wear the clothes to be photographed for the website’s shopping section. “She will get through around 200 items today, and then she will be in again next week to do the same again. Different sized models come in on different days.”
Photographer Hannah lives just around the corner, and she is assisted today by Clemmie, who is on a gap year.
Ali lives close by with her husband, Michael Hollins, who works in the care sector, but is occasionally persuaded to do modelling, too. She founded Nearly New Cashmere Co in 2015 and was a stay-at-home mum when, 10 years ago, she began to buy and sell secondhand clothes on eBay, noticing that cashmere sold particularly well. There was something in this, she thought, and began travelling overseas in search of secondhand cashmere suppliers.
She sold her upcycled cashmere finds at stalls and fairs, then, in 2019, opened the first Nearly New Cashmere Co shop in Masham, and launched the website. It has all gone rather well ever since, so well that the company soon ran out of space for all its processing and warehousing. Ali had been looking in vain for a year and was considering a move away from the immediate locality when Swinton Estate came to the rescue, renovating old estate buildings into a state-of-the-art, sustainably-built new unit, where the brand can continue to grow.
The new premises and shop can be found at Common Head Lane in Masham. It contains the areas for washing, pressing, renovation work and debobbling - around 400 items a week - plus storage for the items on the website (the rest of the cashmere is still in the old warehouse, although a new warehouse is planned for the back of the new unit). There is also an office, the shop, and upstairs the studio.
They have been in for a month. “It has made a difference already,” says Ali. “The business is growing, really growing. Our sales online are up 70 per cent this year on last year, and it’s great, but we need space and it’s really hard in a rural location to find commercial premises, so it’s been brilliant that the estate has helped us out and developed it for us.
"I think they thought it would be a shame for a business to leave the community. And it’s lovely to have people working in the community they live in.”
The reconditioning involves washing, checking, de-bobbling if it needs it, minor repairs, perhaps a change of buttons, or the addition of an embellishment over any flaws, all done by skilled local sewers. Ali says: “A significant part of our growth so far can be attributed to our investment in local people.”
The cashmere pieces are genuinely secondhand, bought in batches of 2,000 from trusted suppliers in the US, Canada and the UK. Nearly New Cashmere also takes cashmere from customers in return for a voucher. Some pieces are vintage, some so new that they still have their tickets. There is also an NFR (New From Recycled) collection made from recycled cashmere yarn made in Italy (nowhere in the UK does this yet) and sent to a small company of designers and knitters in the North East.
The Masham team also transforms unusable cashmere garments into accessories such as wristwarmers, fingerless gloves and snoods and there is also a cashmere repair service - Ali advises that it’s best to get reconditioning and repairs done in the summer.
There is a team of around 20 full and part-timers in and around the HQ, and Ali’s four children have all contributed to the success of the operation. “They have all done their bit, and continue to do their bit,” she says. “There’s not one of them that can't sell cashmere or serve in a shop or fold cashmere or grade cashmere.”
Guy, 24, now works for the company, joining after university and running the social media advertising and email marketing operations. The eldest, Imogen, 29, now works as a consultant for the brand and was the one who got them online in the first place. Charity, 28, and Hugh, 22, have also been of immense help.
“They have all done modelling for me. They have all done everything, because when you are starting a business, you can’t be paying people all the time,” says Ali.
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Packaging is kept to a minimum, with the knits arriving with the customer pressed and fresh, wrapped in a compostable bag within a paper envelope. There is also a gift wrapping service.
Nearly New Cashmere also sells beautiful vintage silk scarves, all discarded and bought by Ali from individuals and in bulk, and then released in collections of 100. “People get rid of clothes all the time,” says Ali, adding that she also buys cashmere and silk from a local hospice shop, pieces they cannot resell because they might be missing a button or need a wash.
“There was a time when buying secondhand, people thought of it as a bit downmarket,” Ali says. “We can learn a lot from our young people who are buying and selling on Depop and going to vintage sales. We all need to step up.”
Nearly New Cashmere is at Common Head Lane, Masham, and at nearlynewcashmere.co.uk. The shop is closed Tuesdays and Sundays