The more I become involved in trying to promote wool the more I realise just how small, insignificant and utterly useless I am at it. Or maybe I should say “ineffective” rather than “useless”. On my own, I can wave my arms around and shout but it doesnt achieve much. Where I can be effective is when I recruit all of you passionate wool producers and users out there to expand and amplify what The Campaign For Wool is saying.
As pointed out on the recent Artisans Day, one of the biggest problems is so fundamental to the change we want to encourage that it has to be addressed urgently in order to make progress – at least down at our end of the community. That problem is terminology. When is WOOL not the fleece from a sheep but a generalised term for all fibres – natural or otherwise?
We in the UK do have several different terms in use for wool – all with slightly different meanings. Those in the know tend to use WOOL for sheep fleece and FIBRE for anything else. I never call my cashmere or mohair anything other than fibre for example.We also tend to say YARN for knitting or weaving wools since we know that such yarn can consist of any type of fibre. We would say 100% wool yarn if that’s what we meant, or 50:50 wool and silk yarn etc.. But this distinction is lost on the general non fibre educated public and there is a general air of complacency and lack of awareness in the sheep wool industry about this lack of precision.
I was somewhat taken aback to be approached by an Alpaca breeder recently asking to be included in the CFW and saying that our efforts were making a difference to their sales! People were coming to her saying they knew lots more now about the benefits of wool and really wanted to buy it!! I tactfully pointed out that the CFW was about SHEEP wool and therefore she could not be included in promotions – she was not happy to say the least! In this instance, some of the confusion has arisen due to the inclusion of Alpaca fibre in The Wool Directory down here in the South West. I had thought this was solely for sheep producers, and so did not include any info about my cashmere for example in my entry, but Alpaca has also been included. The result is some confusion all round and dilution of the core message which is that sheep wool desperately needs our support if the industry is to survive. It would be good to see the Wool Directory become the FIBRE Directory as a first step to removing confusion.
Does this matter you might ask? Surely its great that people are interested in WOOL whatever its composition? Well, up to a point yes of course that’s true, but people are, to be corny, having the wool pulled over their eyes in their ignorance! Some do want to buy sheep wool and help promote our industry but if they dont understand the difference between wool and Alpaca for example, or even that silk is not grown by sheep (I kid you not -this came up at a fair I attended once!) then they cannot make that informed choice.
My trip to Bradford (see previous post) showed me that while the Wool Board and Haworths are currently riding up high on increased prices, the whole thing is VERY delicately balanced. They and all the subsidiary businesses that depend on them are reinventing themselves faster than you would ever think possible in a hugely impressive and very exciting way but so much depends on the core messages about sheep wool being driven home clearly and unambiguously. Confusing it with other fibres is a luxury we cannot afford at the moment!!
So, if you are a Friend Of Wool, what is to be done? Here I come back to my feelings of inadequacy. On my own the answer is virtually nothing, but with our wider Artisan community there is hope! We all KNOW what sheeps wool is and understand the terminology. We need to get out there and spread the word as often as possible. Use the correct terminology (preaching to the converted here!) and encourage others to do so and crucially, understand the differences. The Campaign For Wool has accomplished great things largely through huge amounts of good will and voluntary effort by all involved plus the support of course of HRH The Prince of Wales. We need to ensure that its core messages get through loud and clear by removing the fog of confusion with other fibres whether animal, vegetable or synthetic.