BICESTER SAYS ‘BAA BAA’: Bicester Village is marking Britain’s annual Wool Week with a showcase of homegrown brands including Pringle of Scotland, Markus Lupfer, Chinti and Parker, Crumpet, Brora and John Smedley.
The dedicated shop space, British Wool Collective, will remain open until January and the discount outlet village is wrapped in colorful wool yarn, from tree trunks to bicycle wheels to benches.
On Thursday, there were guerilla knitters wandering around in gangs, working on their technique, and one woman showed off her skills working a pair of wooden needles as big as the handle of a baseball bat.
Bicester partnered with The Campaign for Wool and The British Fashion Council on the initiative, which kicked off during Wool Week, which has been going for seven years in the U.K.
The Campaign for Wool, which is supported by the Woolmark Co., has been trying since then to convince brands to use more wool and consumers to buy it for myriad reasons, including its environmental sustainability, durability and easy care.
It’s a big, long-term job, but they have already begun seeing some benefits. In 2006, prices for wool were so low, and demand so limp, that sheep farmers in Australia were ready to quit altogether and use their land for other means.
Peter Ackroyd, chief operating officer of The Campaign for Wool, said the price-per-kilo of the natural fiber is up nearly 50 percent since 2009 at 13 Australian dollars. Today Harris Tweed produces triple the amount of wool fabric that it did in 2008.
Marks & Spencer is using more wool in its collections, while some of the brands on display at Bicester are readily introducing wool into their cashmere offer to give it a hardiness and durability. “Wool is coming into its own,” he said.
Ian Maclean, managing director of John Smedley, one of the country’s oldest and largest textile manufacturers, said it’s satisfying that “wool is now competitively priced” and sales of the brand’s wool knits are up.
He said nothing has happened overnight and there is a long road ahead. “We in the industry want to go out and tell the wool story to the world — and keep telling it,” he said.
“The consumer is environmentally conscious and small businesses will be able to make changes quicker. Big businesses are taking note, but they’ll take more time to change.”