Remember the British technical surfwear company, Finisterre, whom we found were making some really cool gear with innovative knits of merino wool from New Zealand? We alluded then to some ultra-fine wool that they were exploring much closer home. In North Devon, Just a couple of hours up the coast from their base in Cornwall, as it turns out. Well, some more of the story has recently been revealed. And it involves a rare breed of sheep that has almost been lost.As it was put to us, the tale goes, that during the 1970s, up in Scottish Aberdeen, the Macaulay Institute, an international research centre for "the environmental and social consequences of rural land uses" was hard at work breeding a sheep that could endure British weather, whilst still producing a fine gauge wool. Over a 25 year period they managed to crossbreed the hardy Shetland sheep, with the sumptuously soft wool bearing Saxon Merino. Apparently whereas Shetlands could produce wool with a fineness of about 28 microns, the Bowmont, as this new breed were called, blitzed it, with some producing 15.5 microns. (For reference, the softest Merino commonly used in sports apparel these days is about 17 to 18 microns.)
Alas, as Finisterre, put it, the British wool industry had, at the time, fallen out of bed, and so many hard years of breeding were left to dwindle into the fields of mixed sheep farms the country over -- with many Bowmonts being crossbred out.
This information came to light because Finisterre have been looking for some time now to bring their material sourcing and garment production back home. Which is kinda tricky if the wool used in garments is shipped all the way from New Zealand. Anyhow, after a bit of a search -- something surfers -- are renown for, they discovered a North Devon farmer, Lesley, at Devon Fine Fibres, who has been striving to save the Bowmont from extinction. There are thought to only be 200 ewes left in the whole British Isles. Finisterre have become active in this rescue process.
'We've all been up to the farm to help with shearing and lambing and understand fully what goes on, such as the attention to the husbandry and welfare. Each fleece is analyzed for its wool quality and we're just about to process (in the UK) our first lot of fleeces for use in our garments this year,' said Finisterre's design director Tom Podkolinski. 'We are currently working on a scheme to preserve the work done so far and not dilute the name of the breed and associated wool quality.'
In surf parlance, the team at Finisterre are 'stoked' to be an integral part of a initiative to revive a British breed of sheep that could challenge Merino's current supremacy in the fine apparel wool stakes.
Top Photo: Finisterre. Tom Kay, Finisterre Founder, helps with the Bowmont lambing, looking forward to the day when his new friend, Tinker, is providing wool for the company's apparel.
Lower Photo: Finisterre. How many companies are on first name terms with the guy who shears the sheep for the fleece they'll later use? Instead of getting through the average 350 sheep a day, Raymond is more cautious, shearing around only 175, but "in the end we've got happier sheep and we sleep a bit lighter at night."
More Finisterre Techncial Surfwear
• Finisterre: Making Tracks in the Green Wave
• Dropping In On Finisterre: Eco-Technical Surfwear
• Finisterre Clothing Keep On Winning Awards
• Black Sheep Finisterre Warms to Techy Merino Wool