The Galloway & Southern Ayrshire Biosphere’s landmark Crowdfunder campaign raising funds for the launch of a new high end, sustainable knitwear brand came to a close last week, with the team announcing that an astonishing £13,292 had been raised in 30 days.
Merrick Scottish Blackface Knitwear developed through the GSA Biosphere’s 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 that 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, the GSA Biosphere 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 the participatory and ‘feelgood factor’ of Crowdfunder. By the time it closed the month-long campaign had received donations from 131 unique supporters, with 79 ‘Rewards’ being claimed, including more than 80 skeins of Blackface wool for hand knitting. Merrick’s 100% Blackface wool jumpers proved to be the most popular garment, with pre-orders for the first production run completely selling out.
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, the second time the Biosphere’s knitted garment designs have appeared in a fashion show, following their showcase at the Royal Highland Show last June. The Merrick Knitwear team were also invited to speak to subscribers to The Journal of Scottish Yarns, while images from Merrick’s latest photo shoot (using local volunteers as models) was published in national print press, attracting even more donations from right across the UK.
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 donations received through Crowdfunder are being used to programme factory days for micro-production, and to create a sample garment set for trade shows and exhibitions. 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.”