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Bright year ahead for new knitwear

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By Fiona Reid
Bright year ahead for new knitwear

HOPES are high for 2024 for a new knitwear brand made with local wool after it secured £13,292 through a crowdfunding campaign.

The month-long push in aid of Merrick Scottish Blackface Knitwear received donations from 131 supporters across the UK.

It was set up by the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere who are behind the new high end, sustainable knitwear brand, which was developed through a pilot project exploring new uses for local wool from Blackface sheep, Scotland’s most numerous native breed.

Blackface fleece is typically sent abroad for use in carpet and mattress manufacture, and sells for such a low price that it does not generate any profit for farmers.

The GSA Biosphere, which works in cross-sector partnerships towards global sustainable development goals, believed more could be done to make Blackface wool part of a more sustainable local textile industry.

With funding support from the Scottish Blackface Sheep Breeders’ Association and working with leading knitwear designers, they created a first collection of outerwear garments using the finest grade Blackface wool, all of it sourced within the UNESCO-designated region.

A business plan was developed to launch a pioneering social enterprise model that would return all profits from sales back into the Biosphere’s ongoing programme of conservation, education, climate action, and community initiatives.

As a non-profit organisation, the Biosphere looked for creative opportunities to take the wool project to its next stage, opting for a Crowdfunder late last year.

During the campaign, Merrick charcoal gilet and natural shawl-necked cardigan were shown on the catwalk at the ReDress Scotland Slow Fashion Festival in Dumfries.

COSY . . . Ribh from Crossmichael models some of the knitwear

Now that crowdfunding has concluded, the Biosphere team are focused on next steps: building the Merrick brand and getting the clothing range on general sale.

The funding will be used to programme factory days for micro-production, and to create a sample garment set for trade shows and exhibitions.

Meanwhile, the digital development side will include professional photography, marketing and an online shopfront, and branded artwork for eco-friendly packaging. The Biosphere also aims to continue its efforts to improve returns for producers: they pay above the market rate for Blackface fleece and hope that raising awareness of its quality and versatility could lead to a higher market value.

Project lead Marie McNulty said: “The success of our crowdfunding campaign demonstrates the incredible level of enthusiasm that’s felt far and wide, not only for preserving Scotland’s rich rural heritage but for finding more varied, innovative, and sustainable uses for Scottish wool.

“We’re incredibly grateful to everyone who supported, shared and promoted the Merrick campaign, all of whom have contributed to our broader vision of celebrating historic industry and crafts here in the UNESCO Biosphere region.”