Herdwick wool man bags putting Kendal on the fashion map
Adam Atkinson is designing his own range of man-bags made from wool collected from Herdwick sheep. Emma Mayoh reports PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOHN COCKS
Herdwick sheep are known as one of the hardiest creatures found outdoors braving all the elements thrown at them on the Lakeland fells. But now, incredibly, the wool from this tough breed is being used to create man-bags.
Adam Atkinson, who is based in a small workshop in Union Street, Kendal, first struck on the idea of using the low grade wool to produce his Cherchbi range of bags after reading about farmers burning it because it was more economical than selling it.
‘It made me really sad and I thought not only was it bad that farmers weren’t getting enough money for the wool but also that it was a terrible waste,’ he said.
‘I hope and believe by creating this range that I will be helping farmers to get a better price.’
Four years ago the 41-year-old set up the business, using the old name for Kendal. He has spent that time finding the right spinners, weavers and manufacturers to bring his designs to life. He worked with them to make the wool stronger and more resistant, and tested nine different weaves before he finally came up with the best tweed for his Herdwyck No 10 bags.
He said: ‘This is very tough, strong tweed. It is stronger than Harris Tweed and I’ve worked with the weavers and spinners to make sure it is also waterproof. It’s been a long process but I’m really pleased with it now.
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‘Herdwick wool is a really interesting and challenging fabric to work with. It’s a really wiry, coarse wool which is why it fetches such a low price. But by the time we have got all of the debris out of it and it has gone through the process it is a high quality product that is very robust.’
The business is a far cry from his previous career as a designer for large international companies including Nike and Puma. But he became disillusioned and moved back to Kendal and set up on his own.
‘My last job was the straw that broke the camel’s back,’ said Adam. ‘It was all about making things as cheaply as possible so you could sell more and more. The quality was never improving and I decided I wanted to make something for myself.’
There is nothing cheap about Adam’s range - expect to pay �120 for a cover for your iPad and up to �750 for a large holdall. But he is making a high quality product that he says has transformed low value wool into a high grade, luxury, hardwearing material.
He sources the wool from the British Wool Marketing Board which gets it from local farmers. The spinning, weaving and manufacture take place across the British Isles, something he makes no apologies for as there was no one based locally to do it.
Adam, who was born in Kendal and studied at Carlisle Art College, has shown his collection at trade shows in Italy, London and Tokyo and a number of retailers are already interested in stocking the Cherchbi range. He has spent much of the past few months meeting potential buyers and hopes to have a number of stockists lined up.
He said: ‘The wool is a really terrific local product and I’m proud to showcase it in this way. The quality of the tweed speaks for itself and these bags will last for decades.
‘I have had a lot of interest from Japanese retailers. The dream and the aim now for me is to make Cherchbi a success but not so it’s massive. I believe in what I’m doing. It’s never been about making pots of money.
It’s about doing something that keeps me interested, is a challenge and I believe making a high grade tweed out of a low grade wool is a good thing to do.’
All about Herdwick
Herdwick sheep are generally thought of as the hardiest of the country’s breeds of hill sheep. The majority of them are kept in central and western parts of the Lake District and have become a symbol of the area.
The wool taken from the breed is considered to be of low quality and low value but Adam has applied methods that have vastly improved the quality of the wool to use in the production of his bags.
The grey fleece from a Herdwick is not easily dyed and its coarse texture has meant that it is best suited for use as a carpet wool. It is also a good insulator and can be used, if fireproofed, as loft insulation.
Herdwick lambs are born black but gradually turn brown. Once they have been sheared the fleece lightens to grey.