Kate Davies wrote a fascinating post on her blog this morning all about the intricacies of making things locally, and what it means produce things locally. You should go and read it... then come back here, where I shall pontificate in a somewhat less elegant way abut what local means to me.
Hilltop Cloud is, and always has been an international business. I send parcels all over the world every single week, and without my international customers I would not have a business.
I have always stocked a lot of British wool, and am proud to do so. Growing fleece is one thing that we do really well in this country, and have done for centuries.
However, that doesn't mean that we have a monopoly on producing excellent fibres, and there are certain types of sheep that do not do well in the British climate. Equally what Kate says about some of the British suppliers in the wool trade rings very true with my experience. There are some British business who are a nightmare to work with, I would much rather do business with a company based outside the UK that can provide me with a high quality product, excellent traceability, who are straight forward, and honest to deal with.
I am happy to bang the drum about the excellence of certain British fibres. I genuinely believe that Cambrian Wool is amongst the best pure wool top for worsted spinning in the world. But being truthful, there are many British farmers for whom the quality of their fleeces is not a priority. They chose to emphasise a different aspect of their business, and I am not going to pretend that all British wool is excellent, when it quite simply isn't. I am also a firm believer in different fibres for different purposes. There are enough things in this world that make us upset in a daily basis, and sometimes I might just need the bit of extra comfort that wrapping some responsibly sourced Mongolian cashmere around my neck provides.
For me, dyeing in Wales using the water that comes off my hillside is part of my story. But it doesn't make me in anyway superior to a person dyeing in an urban environment using the water that's piped in to their house by Severn Trent. As a nation we seem to have got caught up in the mythology of Britain is Best, however no man is an island (!), and very often British is not best. It's not best for me as a producer, or you as a consumer. The spinning community is a large and varied one. I enjoy sending a piece of my story to faraway countries, and I enjoy bringing supplies from faraway countries so that I can share their story with you. When I buy my supplies I look for companies that are doing "the right thing", treating others how they would wish to be treated. Ones with fair pricing practises, and a commitment to environmental standards.
The legislation we have, thanks to our membership of the EU, means that I can be safe in the knowledge that what I source from companies based in other European countries is responsibly produced. My business is Welsh, British, European and Global, and not necessarily in that order. I have always believed that things are better when we know more about the world in which we live, and are willing to look beyond our own borders with open eyes, and a willingness to work in partnership.
Every company is "local", they all generate income that benefits a local community somewhere. In the case of fibre production that industry is often highly specialised, and has been perfected over many generations. In the same way that it's important to support British local crafts to ensure skills are passed down it's just as important to support international "local" crafts, and thanks to the wonders of the internet it's increasingly possible to do so. The farmer who is based in South America producing my 19 micron Merino needs sell his product in just the same way as the farmer at the bottom of the road. He raises his sheep with care (sheep who are not well cared for produce poor quality wool), and is reliant on the income he generates from his wool crop. As a country who gained much of it's wealth from exporting our wool several hundred years ago it seems somewhere disingenuous to turn around and say that other countries should not be doing the same now, and by saying that we should only be buying British wool that is exactly what we are saying.
For those of us based in the UK buying wool from British sheep that is processed in the UK can mean that we have a smaller environmental impact. But as with some many things, it's not necessarily as simple as this being better for the environment, there are so many factors to consider that as a single individual it's often hard to weigh up all the issues, and often there's no single right solution. One thing that is very apparent to me, as it was to Kate in the original post that sparked off this discussion, I have much in common with a spinner over in Australia who cares passionately about these things, you are my local community.