Sue Blacker ran The Natural Fibre Company wool mill in 2005-2019. In this time, the business multiplied by 10 and set up an online sheep wool breeds and blends yarn store – Blacker Yarns. Now she has handed on to new owners to take the business forward, remaining on a part-time consultancy support basis. During this lecture Sue shared from her rich experience of processing local wool from both British and other European breeds and selling the products successfully.
In the UK there are more wool infrastructure than in many other countries. You can choose to sell just the wool or invest in adding some more value. In the last 200 years wool prices have been up and down over and over again on the global market. Recent pandemics have had a significant effect, due to the influence of China. So: avoid the main wool market! Create another market for your wool and products. An own niche is essential, even for large-scale. Use the scale you need and can deliver, rather than the scale of the market. Wool is a sustainable winner! Make use of the attributes and the origins! Even an ordinary product is special if you can tell the story. And remember that this way is either cheap nor easy, so you must be realistic and patient! It takes at least a year from clip to finished product, and you must then market it as well! It will not sell itself.
For adding value (and some cost!) to make the most of your wool you need to develop products and tell their story. If you don´t want to process the wool on your own you must sell it to the right person, where you can get better payed for rare or regional breeds. There will always be great and worse fleece in a flock, sorting out and selling the best fleece expensive could finance all shearing.
The origins of the wool – your farm, your farmer´s co-op, your farmer´s market or your region is important for both business and consumer. This extra difference is very saleable, whether through certification, blockchain or local provenance, if demonstrated!
You can add value beyond the farm by scouring, carding, spinning yarns, weaving, knitting, etc. The characteristics of your wool are crucial to what can be done and you must process and present it in the most appropriate way. The many main stages in the wool process makes the products expensive, so you have to sell them! With provenance, photos, stories, website, blog and other social media. If you get your wool designed into high quality products and then bring them back to the farm you get the best impact from your story. Marketing and selling online is no longer only for the few. Post pandemic world is more virtual than real and marketing local wool is an international activity.