Wool Week: Getting Immersed in the Wool Supply Chain

To kick off Wool Week, our head of sustainable fashion and textiles Charlotte and communications account director Emily got immersed in the wool supply chain by visiting Tellenby Farm in Devon – England’s only farm with a thriving Australian merino flock, and an incredible example of how socially and environmentally positive farming can be even in the face of climate and economy challenges. Here’s what they learnt.

This field trip (quite literally) was an essential part of our work, experiencing textile supply chains first-hand and building relationships with the people, animals and landscapes entwined in the creation of the clothes we wear every day. 

The day showed how wool is multi-faceted – the creation of a high-quality fibre is at the core of wool growing, but the relationship between the sheep and the landscape is integral to this. Their welfare, the food they eat, and the environment in which they live has physical impacts on the wool they produce. We know that merino wool is a durable, high-performance and biodegradable fibre suitable for a wide range of applications, and as a result there is now a rising demand for the fibre, especially from Europe and in particular the historic spinners and weavers of Italy.  

Lesley Prior has flown in the face of convention by bringing Australian Merino to the fields of South-West England, showing that superfine merino can succeed in a British climate. Tellenby Farm perfectly illustrates that this type of farming can be done in the UK, and it can be done well – in harmony with the environment and with the utmost care for the wellbeing of the flock. It is however not quick, and requires a long-term vision – this is the type of farming that requires patience, care, passion and dedication. 

Lesley’s approach to wool farming acknowledges that rather than an ownership model, this is a partnership between her and the flock – the care she takes over their welfare and health is reflected in the quality of their wool, and their positive interaction with people. We were privileged to meet the flock (and some very inquisitive goats), all of whom live long and natural lives under Lesley’s care. 

Something that was very clear was the fact that being a wool grower means being part of a community. From working with other farmers to share and develop practices that ensure high animal welfare standards to developing the best quality wool, it is a collaborative industry dependent on knowledge sharing.  As the only Australian merino wool grower in England, Lesley has a very close relationship with the Australian wool industry, which is represented by organisations such as The Woolmark Company (TWC) and Australian Wool Innovation (AWI).  To ensure that best practices in merino farming are shared and continued, Tellenby Farm can be visited for consultancy and training days, where Lesley can share the passion and research that led her to embark on the challenge of introducing merino sheep to Devon. 

It was a one in a lifetime opportunity to visit Tellenby Farm, and we hope to see the passion and care displayed continue – and as Lesley acknowledged, it is a privilege not a right to raise these sheep.   

Want to know more about wool? Watch Fashion-scapes: Forever Tasmania to follow Livia Firth as she journeys to one of the earth’s most biodiverse regions to meet wool growers turned earth-defenders with the Woolmark Company.

Read our interview with Georgina Wallace, a Tasmanian wool grower.

See our tips for how to best take care of your wool