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‘The Great Northern Cloth’

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The ambition of Macclesfield tailor Brita Hirsch: “I hope to bring to the market, for the first time, a Merino cloth with a 100% British production chain, including a new breed of sheep as raw material producers.”

Not many people know, she explains, that although the finest cloth in the world is still woven in the long-established mills of West Yorkshire, British wool plays no role in this.

In fact 100% of the Merino fibre used in this coveted fabric is imported from across the globe – from Australia, New Zealand or, increasingly, from China.

The coveted Merino breed, she continues, originates in Europe where it was first kept by the kings of Spain.

Later, they were also kept in Saxony and Britain, before Australia and New Zealand were discovered for their vast pastures and mild climate in the late 1800s, and the tradition ended.

Ever since, Merino wool has been imported into the UK from the far sides of the globe, to be woven into the fine cloth which the British woollen industry is famous for.

The government conducted research into the re-introduction of the Merino breed in the UK in order to find a more sustainable source for the wool.

The breed that was successfully developed for this research is a mix of 75% Saxon Merino and 25% Shetland, making it hardy for the Scottish climate. Although successful, the project was abandoned before the wool was put to use in production as funding dried up.

In November 2017, Brita Hirsch took up the call to arms and launched an incredibly successful Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign to revive the idea of a truly British cloth, ‘The Great Northern Cloth’.

Ahead of the crowdfunding launch, she said: “I embarked on the project when I realised it was impossible to source a light weight, soft wool cloth with true British provenance.

“I didn’t want to reinvent tweed, as my customers are looking for a lighter and softer fabric – with character but not the typical weight and ruggedness of the material.

“When I was unable to find such a fabric with a 100% British production chain, I took it into my own hands to produce it.”

It took Brita 18 months to build a relationship with five Scottish farmers who keep the Merino sheep originally bred for research into a more sustainable local wool supply.

She enthused: “Their fine wool can easily compete with imported fleece and I was eventually able to purchase their 2016 ‘clip’ (the wool ‘harvest’).”

The wool has been graded at the highest fineness level available (141), certified by the British Wool Marketing Board.

Long standing woollen spinners R. Gledhill Ltd in the Yorkshire borders didn’t hesitate when Brita asked them to process the wool for her – but nobody knew exactly how the wool would lend itself in a woven cloth, or how it would take to the dye.

Thankfully, the risk paid off as Brita took delivery of the incredibly fine, soft suiting cloth and her aspirations were then close to being a reality.

Brita will use the crowdfunding money to create a brand, a dedicated website and to secure a supply of this extraordinary and very rare wool.

The rewards for supporting the Kickstarter were prepared ahead of time to be shipped in plenty of time for Christmas (with the exception of bespoke garments) and all that was left was for people to pledge their support for the campaign.

In all, 461 backers pledged a total of £35,843 to help bring the project to life.

For more on the story, you can visit the Kickstarter page here: Kickstarter: The Great Northern Cloth

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