An Open Letter to The Campaign For Wool

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Dear Campaign for Wool,

We’d like to introduce ourselves as the organisers of Wovember.

We are Felicity Ford and Louise Scollay and Wovember is an annual celebration of wool that takes place every November. We aim to encourage our audience to enjoy wool throughout the whole month; disabuse consumers about misleading advertising spin and product descriptions; and educate our readers widely on the historical, cultural and material significance of wool. We encourage people to wear wool during the month of November, and we share intelligent content on our popular blog and other social media channels, exploring wool from all angles. Our content is sourced from many voices within the wool industry who volunteer their time to write for us and, in turn, we produce Wovember each year out of our own pockets and our own time. We do this because we believe that wool, and the people who work with it, are extraordinarily important. (You can see our website at wovember.com, and our archive of previous years’ work at wovember.wordpress.com.)

Our contributors and audience are a rich and diverse community of hand-spinners, knitwear designers, hand-knitters and crocheters, weavers, dyers, shepherds, shearers, felt-makers, sewists, mill-spinners and other wool workers. Working at grassroots level or as small, independent companies (largely in the craft sector) these businesses and enthusiasts collectively learn about wool, and find new and innovative ways to work with, to create, to promote, and to market this wonderful fibre.

We have followed the activities of The Campaign for Wool for many years and broadly share the same intentions to educate the world about the versatility and importance of wool. A great number of our supporters among the world of small independent businesses are also yours (as listed on your supporters page). We share many of the same followers on our respective social media channels. Yet today we feel impelled to write to you about the tone, tenor and content of your marketing, and the way you seem increasingly to be excluding those who most closely work with wool from a campaign which purportedly exists to promote it.

We feel that for a number of years your campaign – and the considerable funding that lies behind it – has principally targeted the high-fashion and luxury markets, and has been overwhelmingly focused on large brands, celebrity events, and publicity stunts. Though such things perhaps have their place in effective contemporary PR, we feel that through an overemphasis on courting big businesses and tabloid publicity you are currently alienating some of wool’s most loyal, effective, and talented ambassadors.

In our daily work as knitwear designers, pattern creators, yarn-spinners, mill-owners, shepherds, shearers, felt makers, bloggers, podcasters, and committed researchers and writers we are very close to wool. We explore the special qualities of wool from rare and native breed sheep; we research and write about the effects of different sorts of preparation and spinning; we design beautiful and useful woolly products and we build new audiences for wool by telling them real stories of its provenance and production. These audiences are large, international, and highly engaged. They are formed of people who are interested in making wool a meaningful part of their lives, from knitting or hand-sewing their own wool garments, to choosing to buy wool socks, or waistcoats from committed creative companies, to purchasing other useful woolly items like throws, and duvets, rugs and carpeting. Surely these are audiences you, too, would like to address and engage?

In a contemporary marketplace where the provenance of goods is a growing matter of interest, you cannot really afford to ignore a thriving independent sector which is now changing perceptions of fashion (from fast to slow), sharing skills, creating worthwhile sustainable products, and generally winning the public over to wool at a local level. Surely the public you intend to “educate about the incredible benefits and versatility of wool” might be interested to hear about the experiences of the daughter of a Yorkshire shepherd who recently produced a popular yarn for hand-knitting from the formerly undervalued fleeces of her father’s flock? Perhaps they would equally be inspired by the story of how a chef and a micro mill are collaborating to produce limited edition, single-flock yarns? Indeed, we would respectfully suggest that these interesting examples of local success and creativity tell a far more inspiring, and easy-to-grasp woolly story than the rather confusing narrative which you recently championed on all your social media channels: of the “British” suits worn by the England football team, grown in Australia, processed in China, Italy and Romania, and stitched in Cambodia, (albeit of woollen cloth which was finished in Yorkshire and sold by Marks and Spencer).

We sadly note that at the forthcoming Dumfries House Wool Conference (also being described in your marketing and publicity, apparently without irony, as The Davos of Wool) all the named speakers are spokespersons from high-end fashion brands and commercial furnishing manufacturers. We feel strongly that a meeting of wool’s great minds and stakeholders – such as this conference purports to be – should really include representatives who work closely and creatively with wool from sheep to fleece, from fleece to yarn, from yarn to finished item.

We therefore politely ask the Campaign for Wool to consider the following among its forthcoming activities:

*Profiling and publicising the work of successful grassroots wool workers as well as the activities of big businesses and brands
*Consulting with experts from within the craft and cultural sectors on building inclusive, well attended events at which attendees can really learn about wool
*Inviting delegates from grassroots organisations as well as from big businesses and brands to events at which important decisions are to be made regarding the future of wool

We are also keen to hear how we might more effectively bring our projects to your notice; are there practical constraints that make the above ideals difficult to put into practice, and are there ways in which we can help? We are keen to work with you, and to receive your feedback.

At Wovember we have had an ongoing focus on closing the gap between producers and consumers of wool. But we now feel painfully aware of a different, but equally problematic gap between the luxury brand-focused activities of the Campaign for Wool and those of the inspiring people who actually work with, and celebrate wool as part of their everyday lives and businesses. For the future sake of wool, we would really like to bridge this gap.

Would you like to help?

YOURS IN WOOL,
FELICITY FORD AND LOUISE SCOLLAY

wovember[at]gmail.com

39 thoughts on “An Open Letter to The Campaign For Wool

  1. This is excellent and needed saying. CFW have always, it seems to me, gone for the ‘glamour’ side of things. From my own, ever growing, customer base the interest is now
    On totally Britsh, quality products, with considerable interest in provenance.
    Your letter has hit the nail on the head!

  2. Excellent letter,girls. Couldn’t agree more!! My small business – hand spun wool yarns, called Woolrush Yarns evolved from my knitwear business which went under the name of ‘Calanas’ (it still appears in my pattern collection for adults). The word ‘CALANAS’ is a gaelic word with a blanket meaning (no pun intended), covering the processing of wool from the sheeps back to the finished garment.

  3. Absolutely brilliant letter. Very well articulated and I liked how you offered an opportunity for actual discussion by asking whether these ideals were too ambitious and whether there they had suggestions for how to take things forward. If you still don’t get a response I would suggest you write direct to HRH as he is supposed to be an advocate for small rural enterprises and for crafts and heritage. Maybe he might get them to take this side of things seriously.

  4. Wonderful letter, since being in the small, localised area of retail, I always looked at the Campaign for Wool, and wondered why they seemed to do exactly as you say… Not really having any connection with my customers. Thank you for this

  5. Agree completely. As a knitter, crocheter, sew-er & spinner who uses wool in all these crafts for both leisure & work, I have always felt that the Cfw is absolutely nothing to do with me! And yet I bang on about the wonders of wool every time I teach, and wear wool year round. Shouldn’t the Cfw be supporting us? I hope you get a response.

  6. Yes, yes, yes! CfW I hope you are listening! We are soon releaseing book of crochet patterns for undyed British wool and their promotion of it would be amazing and, because we reinvest in our business and spend within the UK wool community, be better for the wool industry than lining the pockets of Chanel and Gucci shareholders.

  7. Very well written. I hope you have sent this to HRH Prince Charles in printed format (old fashioned paper!). I wrote to him a few years ago about what I was trying to do with local wool and got a reply by return of post. He listens. Now we want to get him reading Wovember and telling everyone about the fantastic work you girls are doing for the world of wool.

  8. Well constructed letter that expresses my thoughts far more eloquently than I ever could. Being a one woman band producing wool and products (Bramblecot Yarn) only from my own high-welfare flock in Dorset,, I found CFW dismissive of my tiny efforts.

  9. Excellent, you gals say something that has long needed saying. I too am certain HRH Prince Charles would be genuinely interested in reading this – he does have an appreciation of small producers/designer-makers. But the commercial fashion market is a very different creature and probably largely unaware of the amazingly productive, talented and passionate ‘home’ (can’t think of the appropriate word) market.

  10. Very articulate and excellent response. I’ve also been following all your promotion of the smaller producers, designers and knitters on instagram. I loved the post that called for less photos of handsome supermodels and more handsome sheep who really are the star of the show! Keep up the excellent work!

  11. Excellent letter. If I was able to speak directly to CFW I would ask why it is so difficult to get information to enable producers to access the duvet and insulation market, which I believe is growing with mainly imported wool. Also, isn’t it time we stopped sending wool abroad for scouring because it’s too costly to do it in Britain. All kinds of things could be done to help the smaller producer/craftsperson to access the market, if it weren’t for vested interests.

  12. Excellent letter.
    I often feel let down by the current CfW things I see, they speak to someone with a ton of money to buy a wool carpet from an unknown provenance as long as it is made in the UK but not someone who patiently makes items from a small flock which takes time not money.
    I work with wool daily and speak to people who are as passionate daily. The CfW would do well to connect and show the smaller producers and users as much as the rich/fashion brigade.

  13. I really appreciate this letter. I had no idea this disconnect existed but I know that personally I’d much learn more about the origins of wool and how it became the yarn I knit with than high end fashion. Thank-you for this and I really applaud your efforts.

  14. A truly outstanding letter, Felix & Louise. Very well said. Do let us know if you get any response from CfW. Surely your letter will shame them into responding.

  15. Yes, it is important to promote the small independent wool businesses.
    However, looking at the big picture. Is it not advantageous to have the high-end fashion businesses on our side? They are promoting wool which is what we want.
    At least it’s a beginning, making consumers of fashion (whether one agrees with that or not) aware of wool as a fine product, instead of garments made with oil based yarns.
    We are not going to change big business, it’s there and it runs on profit. We can’t turn the clock back, but we can encourage fair trade by bringing ideas to the mass consumers. At the moment, we need big business to help promote fair trade and natural products.

    But thinking it through… what effect would a massive increase in the demand for wool have on the way in which sheep are farmed? We’ve seen the catastrophic development in animal farming such as killing male chicks and calves, squashing hundreds of pigs and cows into small spaces, injecting them with antibiotics and hormones, feeding them stuff which their stomachs are not designed to digest so that, for instance, the cows can hardly walk because their udders are so big, all because consumers want more meat and milk but are not prepared to pay the real price for them.

    Could a higher demand for wool on a commercial basis lead to (in)breeding sheep which can be shorn two or three times a year?
    What does a large herd of sheep do to the environment? How much land would be needed on a commercial basis? What is the financial investment needed by farmers, could they get loans and what is their profit margin? And there we are by big business again!

    There are always positive and negative sides to everything.
    I still love knitting with 100% wool, though!

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