15th February 2019
On the road again – taking sourcing seriously
It’s that time of year when The Wool Company owners Harry and Sarah hit the road again to meet the makers and source new original wool products. We'd like to share our experience and what we came away with.
Northern duvet delights
We left Cornwall on Saturday, heading straight to Birmingham to meet a couple of new manufacturers of interest before pushing on to Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire for one of the key meetings of our week away. At Hebden Bridge, we were warmly greeted by our wonderful duvet, pillow and mattress topper manufacturer, Shaun. We’ve been working with him for a year now to develop bespoke hand crafted duvets for us, to get them to the point where we are absolutely satisfied with the quality, finish and whole experience of sleeping under a wool duvet. We’re so lucky with Shaun in that he is just as keen as we are to get it right and create the perfect wool duvet, pillow and mattress topper. We’re beyond delighted with what he has achieved and can’t wait for the final samples to come our way.
Heading further North on the Sunday for another key meeting, we visited our highly esteemed blanket makers, AW Hainsworth & Son who gave us a fascinating factory tour and talked about all their incredible innovations and investment in specialist production lines. It was amazing seeing our blankets being made from scratch - how the wool is spun into yarn and taken through endless sophisticated and yet gentle processes to make it more lofty and stretchy, trapping more air into the wool fibres. They have the most enormous beam and warping machinery and they are now the last remaining vertical mill in the UK. This means that they take in "greasy" raw wool fleece in bales and operate every process themselves right through to the packaging of the finished products. The warping beam allows them to create wider fabric, allowing for shrinkage. They even have dedicated specialist dye scientists to ensure the highest quality control between batches of their natural colour dyes.
It was great to talk through making improvements - rationalising our selection according to our recent customer feedback and developing needs. We’re so proud to be working with them, garnering a niche market with these quality traditional blankets.
Scottish heritage and wool community
For the next few days, we based ourselves from a quirky hotel (we know their rugs weren’t made of wool because of all the static we created), in the pretty town of Hawick. We visited some incredible companies with amazing pedigrees - ranging from 4 years to 300 years experience - all specialising in filling a niche in the market.
As we went from meeting to meeting, each producer brought another unique experience and great new lines of wonderful wool products. It struck us that the wool makers world up there is a close-knit community as they all know each other. They all take pride in their skills, expertise, manufacturing history and innovation as well as the quality of their unique product.
From Hawick, we moved on to Loughborough, Mansfield and Somerset, where we were treated to a complete tour of the sock and knitwear production lines, talked Brexit and received an education on the science behind gauges and ply.
The mohair sock production line was closest to our hearts, being the original reason for starting the business all those 13 years ago. Meeting the skilled team behind the socks makes such a difference, knowing that they have taken care to hand link the toes puts a smile on our faces. We got a chance to talk limited edition and bespoke ranges as well as potential new alpaca sock ranges….
Watching one of our Chunky Aran Knit throws come off the production line at the mill and how it is then pre-shrunk to size, was quite a treat. There’s definitely something in the simple delight of watching the way it hangs, drapes and folds, that we just can’t put our fingers on, but it’s there!
Brexit came up in conversation, around the topic of spinners. Their yarns are made with the softest British wool, spun by spinners within a 50mile radius. They’re lucky to have them so close because there are very few spinners left in the UK. A lot of companies rely on European spinners, in which case they will see costs rise after Brexit. Despite the Brexit nerves jangling, at least we came away more informed on the topic of gauges and ply. That kind of level of information and detail will help us make decisions on some new directions for us ...but we’ll save that for the launch later in the year!
Taking pride and reaffirming our love of wool
The teams were a delight to meet and seem happy, taking pride in their work, making things that nobody else does. Maybe it’s also because they love their art and are content in the knowledge that they are creating those tiny little moments of pleasure for many, many people – such as that ‘aahhh’ moment of warmth and comfort the second you put on your mohair socks on a cold morning. Maybe it’s because they know they are producing something that will last in today’s throw-away society; that the end user will still be enjoying that 'aahhh' moment in 10 years time, (long after the supermarket bought multi-pack set of synthetic socks have disintegrated with wear and tear - never to biodegrade).
They were all happy to share with us their like-minded ethos and talk about their inspirations and aspirations. As much as we love Cornwall and were glad to be home, it was so lovely to escape the day to day and be re-inspired for the new year and be reminded of why we love being The Wool Company.