When you can see sheep in your neighbours’ fields, surely it makes sense that your jumpers are made from their fleece, rather than from flocks reared half a world away?
Country clothing brand Glencroft thinks so, and is preparing to launch a range of knitwear made from the raw wool fleeces it buys at a competitive price from farms within a five-mile radius of its base at Clapham in the Yorkshire Dales.
This fully traceable “farm to yarn” process has already seen 600kg of fleeces transported to a scourer in Bradford, then carded and combed in Bingley and spun into yarn in Shipley. Half will be made into hand knit yarn available in 100g hanks (a free knitting pattern is being created by a local expert hand knitter, and it will be available via a QR code on the packaging) and the rest will become machine yarn for a bespoke knitwear range launched later this year.
Called the Clapdale Wool Project, it has been supported by a £5,000 grant from the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority’s Sustainable Development Fund, and was inspired by a similar project in the Lake District which uses wool from the Herdwick breed. Last year, the brand launched a video in praise of wool, featuring its customers.
Glencroft owner and partner Edward Sexton brought together a team of British wool and fashion design experts to create a Yorkshire equivalent, using traditional and modern sheep breeds, including Dalesbred, Texel, Teeswater and Blue Faced Leicester.
“By using breeds from the hills which surround us in Clapham, we will produce a wool that relates directly to the economy here,” he says, adding that the company is using wool from two Clapham farms, Dawsons of Bleak Bank and Whitakers of Bowsber Farm.
“I’ve already got an eye on what to do next year and whether we can process more wool, with a view to making a Yorkshire tweed from our local sheep breed – Dalesbred – which is undervalued and hardly worth the shearing currently. While this breed is included in the wool blend for the Clapdale Wool Project, it would be nice to do more with it.”
Farmer John Dawson says: “Wool production in the Dales is part of our cultural heritage and for too long it has been undervalued. It has many qualities, including being a naturally grown and a totally sustainable product of nature.”
John’s son Willam models Glencroft’s main collection, currently available online. The brand partnered with photographer and filmmaker Juliet Klottrup to photograph the range, seen here. Juliet – a winner of The British Journal of Photography’s Portrait of Britain 2020 – lives in the Dales, and her work draws on the relationships between people and place, landscape and community, rurality and tradition. Edward says: “Having grown up in the rural village of Clapham myself, I understood immediately her talent for visual storytelling.”
Based in a 200-year-old converted barn, Glencroft is a family business, founded in 1987 by Edward’s parents, Richard and Justina Sexton. It produces traditional, luxury clothing made from natural fibres including British wool, sheepskin and Harris Tweed, supplying national and international retailers. In 2018, it launched a website so consumers could buy directly. More than 80 per cent of its products are made in the UK, the rest in Europe.
As well as the knitwear, hats, slippers and gloves, there are sheepskin rugs, throws and accessories including bags and belts. The new range includes new jumpers, hats, belts and travel rugs.
For the Clapdale Wool Collection, the Wool Library, creators of British breed specific traceable yarn, is providing expert advice, while the design, development and production of the range, which will include jumpers, scarves, hats and flat caps, is being led by British knit design consultancy KnitLab North.
The aim is that the project will create a circular economy, allowing local farmers to be paid more for their fleece, with 10 per cent of profits fed directly back to them.
Edward says: “We want to show how it is possible to ensure that farmers get a fair price for their fleeces, while working with and promoting the breeds on our doorstep and explaining the processes and costs to supply an authentic, traceable product that will last for years.
“We don’t just want to make a regular Aran hat or scarves. We want a unique product that reflects the area. I doubt anyone has ever made yarn from all these breeds mixed together.”
“In addition to the Clapdale project, we are busy preparing for the year ahead. We often manufacture a lot of our range now when factories and mills are quieter and can offer us machine time, and before all the tourist shops that we supply in Scotland open up at Easter.
“If markets are contracting and some companies are going out of business, then it’s the ones that are different and have something unique to offer that will survive. For that reason, and together with our continued passion for natural materials and trustworthy countrywear, we have pushed to continue to innovate, change and develop new products.”