Salts Mill, Saltaire

British wool trade enjoys a revival

The British manufacture of wool is on the increase as fashion consumers opt for garments made in the UK.

British mill production has been in steady decline since the 1970s, but saw an increase of 12 per cent in 2011, and the amount of wool produced in the UK rose from 32,000 tonnes in 2009 to 40,000 tonnes in 2011.

“In its heyday 70,000 people worked in the worsted weaving industry in Britain, predominantly in Yorkshire,” says Peter Ackroyd, global strategic advisor of wool giant The Woolmark Company.

“Now there are between 5,000 and 7,000 depending on the season.

“But the change lies in the fact that I don’t think consumers in emerging markets want to buy something that costs a fortune only to find out that it was made in China.”

With competition from textile manufacturing powerhouses like China and Turkey, it is unlikely that wool production in the UK will ever again reach the heights of its heyday.

But British wool manufacturing has found its place as a niche provider of fine fabrics for consumers who want to know the origins of the garments they are purchasing.

Fashion manufacturing in the UK has now increased from 2 per cent of the country’s total output to 2.5 per cent, and the value of the global wool clothing industry at retailer level has increased by £22m, with global market value rising from £1.2bn in 2009 to £1.42bn in 2011.

The likes of Burberry, Ralph Lauren, D&G and Paul Smith all buy fabric manufactured in mills such as Abraham Moon in Yorkshire, which has been manufacturing since 1837.

James Laxton, who recently reopened historic yarn mill Laxtons in Guiseley, Yorkshire says: “People want to know where quality pieces of British clothing are coming from, and this includes the yarn it’s made from.

The likes of China don’t have the level of expertise in a niche market that we can offer here in Britain.”

The fact that wool is natural, renewable, biodegradable and sustainable means its eco-credentials are very clear.

The fashion industry’s belief in the importance of using wool has been confirmed with the inclusion of a knitwear section in the most important fabric trade show, Première Vision, for the first time this year.

The Woolmark Prize, won by the likes of Yves Saint Laurent in the 1950s, has also been relaunched.

Yorkshire’s fashion heritage is also being celebrated with a free exhibition at the site of the former wool production powerhouse Saltaire in Yorkshire.

Wool Re-fashioned runs from 7 September until 11 November at Salts Mill, Saltaire.

Further information:

Read more on Yorkshire's fashion heritage

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