How a love for British wool inspired a new business
The Good Shepherd is a knitwear brand founded in 2013 by RCA graduate Emily Watts. Emily has a long standing passion for British wool, which has inspired her throughout her studies and career.
How did it all begin?
My MA project focused on positioning British wool as the future of local materials, so I could explore the development of highly desirable, local products. After I’d finished my MA, The New Craftsmen, which commissions and sells unique British craft, asked me to create a capsule collection of blankets for them. The Good Shepherd has grown from there!
I’ve always loved thinking about the construction of textile products. When I see something, I think “How can I make that? What fibre would replicate it? How can I convey that texture or pattern?” Knitting is the ultimate form of construction - simply loop upon loop that can grow to express an idea.
Why did you choose the name ‘The Good Shepherd’?
It's named after the ferry that connects the island of Fair Isle (a knitter’s pilgrimage!) to mainland Shetland. This ferry is responsible for bringing over the island supplies: from a car, to sheep, to groceries.
The name also reflects my wish to make the best of the fleece that comes from so many flocks - to be a good shepherd.
What do you love about British wool?
For me, it's about a connection to my environment. I hate the idea of readily available renewable fibre, such as wool, going to waste. Living in the UK means making the choice to use what’s available here, which has undoubtedly shaped the textiles I make. The UK has a fantastic history with wool, so there’s a huge amount of information, inspiration, history and traditions available to draw upon.
The UK is a place where rare breed sheep and a more specialised fibre industry is thriving, and a commitment to utilising local materials and drawing upon history and tradition is very much transferable (and already happening) in other countries. I see this as a positive and exciting trend in design and craft.
The calibre of fibre from UK sheep is exceptional. The more that people know about the versatility of British wool, the higher the demand will be. There are fantastic mills in the UK spinning British wool, and there is definite room for growth.
From an aesthetic point of view, there’s a wealth of possibilities for designs using British wool. Whilst initially it can be restrictive and challenging opting to use one material source, ultimately, as a designer, it makes you more resourceful, challenges your practice and I definitely feel stronger for it! Once you restrict your palette, you are forced to look a little closer, which is when you realise there are many subtleties within it and a lot of scope for design.
Finally, British wool is fantastic to knit with, and my favourite aspect is the huge variety of natural shades. The palette is just wonderful, and I love seeing how it can change from batch to batch, flock to flock.
What’s next for The Good Shepherd?
I would ultimately love to have every breed represented in my collections, and I hope that The Good Shepherd continues to grow and promote British wool.
Find out more about The Good Shepherd on Instagram - @thegoodshepherduk
Emily’s products are available to buy online at https://www.thenewcraftsmen.com