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John Smedley and Alex James launch Wool Week

Lauretta Roberts
10 October 2016

John Smedley, Alex James and The Campaign for Wool kicked off Wool Week this morning at the British knitwear brand's Jermyn Street store in a bid to celebrate the sustainability of merino wool.

At the event James unveiled and modelled a merino wool black sweater he has made in collaboration with John Smedley - all the proceeds from the sale of which will be donated to the Prince's Trust charity - and described "jeans and a Smedley" as his default fashion look.

The musician, Blur bassist, writer and cheese maker has recently completed an award-winning film called Alex James Slowing Down Fast Fashion (available to view on Amazon Prime) in which he explores the alternatives to mass-produced fashion. He showed a trailer of the film at the launch and said the fashion industry could adopt some of the practices of the food industry, which now has far greater transparency in its supply chain (due largely to consumer demand).

"With food we are a lot more aware, we're a lot more informed about the food we eat," he said, adding, "and we know very little about the clothes we wear."

One of the solutions to the over-consumption of fashion and the disposal of it via landfill - in his film James claims 50% of the fashion we buy ends up in landfill - is simply educating the consumer. "As with food, we now know that cheap isn't really the best value," he said. "Buy smarter, look at the cost per wear."

He said also that he expected smaller, disruptive brands to be the ones to drive change. "[In food] it was the bright, passionate, smaller businesses that started making the bigger businesses look out of date and a bit silly," he said.

John Smedley managing director Ian Maclean said he believed there was momentum behind the movement to more sustainable clothing but he said that change needed to happen on a global level. "Everybody's got to get on board. Corporations are becoming bigger than governments and that needs to change," he said.

Smedley has been making knitwear in the UK (at its Lea Mills, Derbyshire factory) since 1784, which led Maclean to quip that is was "one of the most sustainable businesses there is." "We've survived several great depressions, two world wars and 60 prime ministers," he said.

To demonstrate the sustainability of the brand's signature merino wool sweaters they donated one to Prince Charles, Patron of the Campaign for Wool, to bury in the grounds Clarence House alongside a sweater made of artificial fibres. Four months later they were dug up by James. "Half of me hoped it would come out of the ground looking better than when it went in given we pride ourselves on making the world's finest knitwear, and half of me hoped it would be happily decomposed, which is what it was when it was dug up by Alex," Maclean said.

The decomposed sweater even smelt nice, according to James, who claimed it smelt of mushrooms, while the artificial fibre sweater was still almost intact when dug up.

Maclean said initiatives such as Wool Week were genuinely beneficial as they brought together all the members in the fashion supply chain, from big businesses to small, who would not normally meet, which leads to productive collaborations. "Prince Charles really cares and he does this brilliantly," he added.

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