Micro-business Chiltern Wool is opening the market for local sheep farmers from its carbon-neutral, solar-panelled cabin near Ashridge Forest in the Chilterns.

Chiltern Wool was set up by Rachel Astor, a textile and art teacher, with the help of a LEADER programme grant. Rachel talks openly about how her business simply would not exist without the LEADER programme and how it has been instrumental in establishing this self-run, environmentally-driven mission.

As a result of the LEADER programme grant, Chiltern Wool has been able to purchase a 5-gauge knitting machine, high-tech pressing equipment and a commercial washing machine. This has allowed Rachel to reach out to local farmers to collect their wool. Chiltern Wool works by taking care of the whole ‘farm to garment’ process, providing the farms a choice of designs to create bespoke woollen garments to sell at local craft shows, online or at farm shops. The whole process involves collecting fleeces, washing, spinning, designing, knitting and finishing. Rachel also extends this offer to designers or clients who would like small batches of sustainable knitwear.

Fast fashion is the second biggest contributor to world pollution (the first being oil), with the proportion of synthetic fibres in clothing doubling since 2000 and rising to 60% in 2019. Wool is known as a high-performance material, it is rapidly renewable, biodegradable (decomposing in a year), and recyclable. It is also highly durable, hypoallergenic, inherently flame resistant and can help regulate body temperature. Chiltern Wool prides itself on all its wool being sourced locally and keeping local produce local, and because of this, all its wool has low environmental impact.

Within the ever-growing fast fashion industry, Rachel is transforming opportunities for farms to diversify into sustainable fashion.

This innovative opportunity for farmers to diversify into knitwear using a by-product is not only boosting local economies, but also a step in the right direction for sustainable clothing and zero-waste fashion.

You can find Rachel and her wool products at www.chilternwool.co.uk.

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