Wool a natural commodity, a sustainable resource, one that is plentiful but so very much underused and under valued. Can you believe that one sheep’s fleece commands a shockingly low price of 40p. This is where Solidwool come in, this innovative brand are championing a new way of working with wool in a diverse and contemporary environment. They are modern day manufacturers of a by product of sheep farming, turning it from something unwanted into something beautiful and unique.
The items designed and made by Solidwool can be considered in place of Injection Moulded Plastics and fibreglass. Wool is used as the reinforcement, bio-resins as the binder. Their manufacturing methods are designed to have the lowest environmental impact that they can.
The Hembury collection is simple, clean lined and practical, a design with longevity in mind, a range of everyday products for the home or creative space. With a chair to sit on, a table to rest your book and coffee on and placemats to make your dining table more stylish the collection is just right. The beauty of the wooden legs of the chair and table contrasting with the dark smooth Solidwool top are a master stroke, tactility in the utility with sustainable values.
I spoke to Hannah, one half of the Solidwool team and asked her about their vision for the business, where it started and where they see their vision going in the future.
We started Solidwool to find a new way of working with wool, in the hope that we could bring some wool manufacturing back to our home town, create fulfilling jobs for ourselves and maybe a small team of people.
We were inspired by our home town and an old industry in decline. Buckfastleigh was once a thriving part of the woollen industry but it had grown quiet since the key manufacturing had left.
We learnt that the coarse wool from hill-farmed sheep had dramatically lost its value in recent years. Historically used in the UK carpet industry, the demand had declined and the wool was now considered worthless, a by-product of sheep farming.
So we started to play, to turn the way we have always worked with wool on it’s head. To take the unwanted and make it beautiful, give it value once again. The end result is what has become Solidwool. A strong, beautiful and unique composite material. Think of it like fibreglass, but with wool.
The Hembury Collection came from this. We had a material and wanted to create a product to showcase the material.
Currently, we use wool from the Herdwick breed of sheep. This wool is wiry, dark and hard. An itchy scratchy type of wool. It’s also one of the lowest value British wools. Once a major part of a shepherd’s income, the wool sells for about 30-40p per kg. It costs more to shear the sheep than they get back in sales. When used in our products the Herdwick wool is beautiful. It produces a dark grey composite with the lighter guard hairs standing out.
At the beginning of the year we moved into a new factory space in the centre of Buckfastleigh, in one of the old disused woollen mill buildings. The space is amazing, light and airy. We’ve been busy fitting the space out in a manner fit for a modern manufacturing company, whilst working out what that is! For us, 2017 is about working on the next generation of Solidwool technology. Really getting to grips with understanding the material and its capacity. Once we have done this we will be expanding our range of furniture.
We also hope to begin sourcing our own wool direct from farmers. Currently we source wool that has gone through the British Wool Marketing Board auction system. This system works, but buying direct from farmers, enables us to be more transparent about our supply chain. It also means we can pay above market price for the wool we source. Giving part of the value we create back to source.
We are also playing with lighter wools, such as the Scotch Blackface sheep on Dartmoor. It is another lower value wool, but can be used with a coloured resin to create a material which is very similar in appearance to coloured fibreglass.
So if you are on the hunt for a unique piece of contemporary furniture with a sustainable twist then please do take a look at Solidwool. Just think how cool your kitchen table will look surrounded by the Hembury chairs, I know I am!
- With thanks to Solidwool for providing the images for this post