On Victoria Day, Gillian Crawford will load up some of the Dorset sheep from her Lismore Sheep Farm in River John, N.S., and drive to Pictou. She and her husband are taking part in the official Canadian launch of Campaign for Wool, with its patron Prince Charles in attendance. Started in 2010, its aim is to promote awareness of its unique, natural benefits. Now the Canadian arm is getting started under the umbrella of the Prince’s Canadian Charities.
For decades wool has been dismissed, suitable for use as just a cold-weather sweater fibre. As Prince Charles said in 2011: “When we discussed this campaign it was clear that the wonderful properties of wool as a material for both interior design and apparel had been almost completely forgotten. This was the tragedy, I thought. So, a wonderful, versatile and sustainable solution was being ignored in favour of fabrics made from non-renewable fossil fuels. This is what a lot of people forget, you see, so they need reminding of this. The fossil fuels, of course, are gradually running out.”
Now, wool is enjoying a resurgence. In part it’s because customers want to know where their products are from, Crawford says. Also, the benefits of wool are being rediscovered. As the campaign’s website explains: “It is not known to cause allergies. It can even reduce floating dust in the atmosphere. Wool also has a naturally high level of UV protection, which is much higher than most synthetics and cotton.” A trip into a sports store reveals racks of wool tops and other gear, even thin versions for summer activities. That’s because in addition to being superbly breathable and odour resistant, wool can be comfortably worn almost all year round. “Wool constantly reacts to changes in body temperature, maintaining its wearer’s thermophysical comfort in both cold and warm weather,” the campaign’s website explains. No wonder Ice Breaker, the New Zealand brand of merino wool clothing, has an amazing variety of T-shirts.
“Some customers know the benefits,” Crawford says, “others are amazed you can wear it year round. Once they are hooked, they think it’s the best thing.” Getting the fashion world involved is part of the scheme, explains Canadian manager Chalo Barrueta. Already retail partners including Holt Renfrew, Joe Fresh and Pink Tartan have signed up and there will be an annual Wool Week, a festival of events and workshops celebrating wool beginning this autumn in Toronto.
Crawford and her husband sell yarn, blankets as well as knitted goods through their farm store as well as online. They also sell at the year-round Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market and the seasonal one in nearby New Glasgow. She has a half dozen local people making the products such as mittens, socks, hats and shawls.
The processes haven’t changed much over the years, though the technology is far more advanced. Though Canada’s industry is small compared to Britain, New Zealand and other large sheep producers, there is still a sizeable infrastructure. Lismore’s 100 sheep produce around 350 kg of wool, which is brought to two mills in the region, MacAusland’s on Prince Edward Island and Briggs & Little in New Brunswick, where the wool is processed into yarn and blankets.
Crawford is hopeful the new Campaign for Wool will make an impact here in Canada. It’s certainly affected the world market. Its press release boasts: “Since its launch in 2010, the Campaign for Wool has influenced a new demand for wool on an international scale, and its efforts have seen an outstanding threefold increase in the price farmers receive for their wool.”