An important part of understanding ethical fashion is finding out where your clothes come from and how they’re made.
Today in my quest to understand the environmental and ethical impact of fashion production, I got up close and personal with a herd of alpacas on a visit to British fashion label Ted and Bessie.
Ted and Bessie Founder Catherine is proud to be a modern farmer. She lives in Buckinghamshire where she cares for a herd of 16 alpacas and runs her “farm-to-fashion” venture.
After studying fashion at university, Catherine, who has always been passionate about alpacas, found a way to bring these two loves together and create an environmentally-friendly ethical fashion business.
As we know, fast fashion has an enormous impact on the environment. Catherine manages the whole process of raising the alpacas, spinning the fibres into wool and knitting them into luxurious hats and scarves, all created here in the UK and keeping their carbon footprint to a minimum.
The alpaca industry is relatively new to the UK, with the first major import arriving in 1995, but alpaca fibre has many beneficial properties.
It’s an environmentally friendly fibre, as it doesn’t contain the oils or lanolin found in sheep’s wool – which means it doesn’t need the same heavy treatments and washing to remove them.
Today was a very important day on the farm – shearing day. The alpacas work hard all year to grow their beautiful, thick fleeces which keep them warm throughout the winter. But as Summer approaches, the alpacas look forward to taking off their hot coats!
With help from alpaca shearing specialists (coolest job ever?!) Richard and Lara from R L Shearing, the herd got a haircut today and Catherine got a fresh batch of fleeces to produce more hats and scarves. One alpaca fleece will produce around 13 hats!
Catherine kindly invited us along to watch, and we even got to help out with preparing the fleece to be sent for spinning.
As you can probably imagine, shearing an alpaca is not the easiest task! Their legs have to be strapped in so they are lying down. One side is sheared, the alpaca is rolled over and the other side is done. This gets the fleece off in one piece, and then the legs and neck are sheared – not forgetting to give them a haircut!
It doesn’t look like the most elegant position, but Richard and Lara were experts at keeping the alpacas calm and working fast. It’s important that the alpaca is strapped down in this way so they don’t get hurt by the shears if they struggle, and Catherine was always on hand to give them a little cuddle if they needed it!
16 alpacas live on the farm – 10 white ones and 6 black ones who only recently arrived, but they’ve settled in well. Each alpaca in the herd has his own personality and friendships within the group. Although one didn’t recognise his best friend after he’d had his fleece done! But he can’t really be blamed – alpacas look a lot different without their woolly coats.
Traceability is an important aspect of ethical fashion, and it doesn’t get much more traceable than being able to say exactly which alpaca the wool in your hat or scarf came from! Catherine carefully labels each fleece during the sheering process to make sure she knows which alpaca produced the fibre.
She knows the animals involved in her supply chain are well cared for because she does it herself. It’s definitely a labour of love, with a lovely personal story at the heart of her business – which is named after her grandparents who left her the money she used to purchase her first four alpacas.
Simple, beautiful designs made from eco-friendly fibre is Ted and Bessie’s goal. They create knitwear entirely produced and manufactured here on British soil, ensuring ethical processes in all stages of production and only using British manufacturers.
You can purchase these beautiful, ethically-made products and learn more about the alpaca herd on their website here.
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