The Sheep Value Chain and ‘Wool Out’ Sheepskin as a Sustainable Material

Sarah Morehead

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Abstract

This research looks at ‘wool out’ sheepskin as a possible sustainable material and its co dependency with the food market as sheepskin is a by-product of the meat industry. The work is informed by oral history and interviews with vets, farmers, tanners, merchants and small holders in exploring the sheep value chain in the United Kingdom from land use, farming, husbandry, tanning and their implications for garment design. The initial hypothesis in exploring the potential for sustainable ‘wool out’ sheepskin was that sheep required minimal intervention in add-on costs in terms of food and healthcare. This is true in part but a more complex picture emerges when exploring different breeds and their attributes. Differing breeds have evolved through farming and creative husbandry to benefit the needs of the market through history. This work explores how different land qualities and sheep breeds work in a symbiotic partnership. How breed varieties not only give different wool, fleece, qualities but also variety in ‘wool out’ sheepskin. It is the ‘wool out’ sheepskin that interests me as a designer and the challenges and opportunities it offers in fabric handle. It is part of a physical dialogue in the design process that explores the differing breeds and varieties of sheepskin in respect to constraint, flow, drape, volume, tactility, luster and the somatic presence of how the user will feel the differing surfaces when using the garment.

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