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Royal spin set to get wool back in fashion

It has been a fabric of life for centuries. Now a major campaign is being spun to make wool fashionable again.

 

Retailers, including Marks & Spencer and John Lewis, will launch an autumn drive to entice buyers into winter warmers.

The high street names have come together with producers and marketing agencies to kick start an ailing industry.

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Yesterday Prince Charles lent his support to the cause at the launch of The Wool Project, which aims to bring the fashion, carpet and textile industries together to increase demand for wool and raise its worth to upland farmers.

His intervention brought warm praise north of the border, where producers have been struggling with the rest of the industry.

Speaking to a gathering of designers and retailers in Cambridgeshire, the Prince warned: “The sad truth is that around the world farmers are leaving sheep production, because the price they get for their wool is below the costs of actually shearing it.”

The new marketing campaign seeks to address a situation where competition from the Far East has gradually put the UK industry out in the cold. For its part, Scotland has a long and proud tradition of wool production and has fought hard against global economic forces.

Fashion designers have played their part in keeping the industry buoyant by weaving Scottish wool and textiles such as Harris Tweed into their high-calibre garments. But the figures from the industry do not add up. Wool is currently marketed at around 70p per kg, down from 97p in 1997. After handling charges, farmers receive around 35p per kg.

Fergus Wood, former director of the Scottish Woollen Industry and the Scottish Fine Wool Producers, which disbanded in 2001 due to the foot and mouth outbreak, welcomed the Prince’s remarks.

“The wool industry in Scotland is sadly a shadow of what it was. We used to have all these fabulous mills and companies dedicated to this lovely product. Unfortunately, a lot of them tried to compete with the Far East but we just can’t compete on that level or at that volume.

“What we can do though is market our own quality product. It has to be about the quality.”

Rog Wood, a farming journalist who writes for The Herald and former large-scale sheep producer, said that a lack of investment in the technology required to modernise wool production had helped to undermine the industry.

He too welcomed the Prince’s sentiments, but added that the problem would always remain that wool is an expensive product compared to man-made alternatives.

“The Prince is absolutely right. Wool is a fantastic product. It has been proven that if you sleep with a wool duvet you get a better night’s sleep. British wool is fantastic for carpets, it has a resilience and it has a lovely bounce. It feels luxurious, like a million dollars.

“The problem is though, that quality is not important to the majority of the market. They just want to keep changing and keep ahead.”

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