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The small rural business that’s taking the British woollen industry by storm

Sally Davie and Jonny King

A family-run woollen mill is taking the British wool industry by storm as its ethically produced 100% organic yarns are gaining recognition throughout the UK.

Now the trailblazing weavers are planning on creating up to six jobs when its new woollen mill, situated in Cardigan, is in full production later this spring.

Garthenor Organic moved to its 21,000 square feet unit at Mwldan Business Park last year and has been gradually moving in worsted spinning machinery to produce 100% organic wool yarn.

Mother and son partnership Sally Davies and Jonny King, who currently have two employees, hope to have the mill in full production by early May as they attempt to meet increasing worldwide demand for their organic yarn.

The £500,000 investment is being backed by the Development Bank of Wales and the family hopes to attract grant support.

Sally and Jonny will be taking a break from the business to exhibit at Wonderwool Wales, which celebrates all that’s great about Welsh wool and natural fibres. More than 230 exhibitors have booked their places at this year’s event at the Royal Welsh Showground in Builth Wells.

“We love Wonderwool Wales,” said Jonny. “We’ve seen it grow over the years to provide a vital platform for small businesses in the Welsh wool industry to come together in one place.

“The event also attracts people from across the world, and as a result we have a couple of tour groups from America and Sweden that are coming to visit us after attending Wonderwool Wales.”

Sheep farmer Sally set up Garthenor Organic, which designs and manufactures ethical, certified organic yarns, from her home near Tregaron in 1999.

Working with the Soil Association, she helped write the first ever organic standards for woollen yarns. In 2003, Garthenor Organic became the first company in the world to produce fully certified organic wool yarns.

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Since then, the company has been obsessed with traceable, ethical yarns. Everything it does is certified to Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS) and organic fleeces are sourced from across the UK and even the Falklands.

Until last year, Garthenor Organic was sending organic fleeces to Yorkshire and Scotland to be spun. However, the Covid-19 pandemic persuaded the company to start doing the spinning itself.

“Our mission is to run a mill at a scale that will make a big difference to the Welsh wool industry,” explained Jonny, who joined his mum in the business five years ago and is now co-owner and creative director.

“Quality Welsh wool has huge potential because we have more variety in Wales than anywhere in the UK. If we can source special wool in Wales, we can ensure that farmers are paid a fair price and that products made from the yarn are exported around the world with a ‘Made in Wales’ label.

“By paying a fair price for wool, it suddenly becomes worthwhile for farmers to breed sheep with their wool in mind.

“Demand for our yarn is so high that we have hundreds of shops around the world on a waiting list. Hopefully, when the mill is in full production, we can go some way to meeting this demand.

“Our mission is to produce totally organic, stunningly sustainable yarn. We aim to be the best in the industry and maintain an exceptional level of care for our animals and our planet.

“We truly value the immortality of wool and want to raise awareness of this. It is so important to us that we are working with such a renewable, recyclable, reusable fibre.”

Explaining why Welsh wool is attracting global interest, Jonny added: “Customers worldwide are captivated by the story of our little nation that grows great wool but doesn’t do much with it.

“In its heyday, in the mid-19th century, Wales had hundreds of woollen mills but competition from England and the advent of cheaper synthetic textiles hammered the industry.

“There is now a resurgence, with people looking for quality fabrics and textiles in clothing that is sustainable and has a good story. It’s an exciting time for the Welsh wool industry because there are so many amazing companies in Wales that are doing great things.”

Highlighting Garthenor Organic’s commitment to sustainability, the company is planting a tree for every single skein of yarn, bag or pair of socks it sells on https://garthenor.com/ . Partnering with Eden Reforestation, the company has so far planted more than 30,000 trees.

Wonderwool Wales covers everything from the start to the end of the creative process. Exhibits of sheep, raw and hand dyed fibres, yarn for knitting and crochet, embellishments, equipment, dyes and books can be found alongside superb examples of finished textile art, craft, clothing and home furnishings.

Tickets, costing  £12 per day or £22 for the Wonderwool Wales weekend, may be purchased online in advance at www.wonderwoolwales.co.uk or at the gate.