Farmers know that wool has a great story when it comes to green credentials and sustainability – but it is currently suffering from some of the lowest farm-gate prices ever seen for the product of our national flock.

Now, a well-known Borders business wants to change all that by making sure that the textile it uses in its famous tartan collection is all home-based.

Lochcarron of Scotland, from Selkirk, has launched its 100% British product, having re-organised its full supply chain from sheep to cloth with only 400 miles between processes.

“We worked with Spectrum Yarns to find a combination of British wool which was fine enough to use for our products and we’ve come up with something which is 75% Scottish and uses the Cheviot breed of sheep. It’s a great breed, environmentally speaking, as it’s a mountain sheep so it’s not using arable land,” explained Dawn Robson-Bell, managing director of Lochcarron of Scotland.

“It is costing us a little bit more to produce this, but we’re not passing it on to the customers as we believe it’s the right thing to do.”

Read more: Kilt Walk enables Crossroads YF to rack up 684 miles

Its search for an all-British product began before the pandemic, although the crisis did underline the risks of relying on wool from Australia and New Zealand which used to produce the fine wool needed for Lochcarron's tartans.

But Dawn and her team were keen to support UK farmers to build the industry at home, where it can cost more to shear a sheep than is recouped from the value of the wool.

So, for Dawn, it is a real farm to kilt project: "Eventually, we want to be able to tell our customers exactly which farms the wool for our kilts and blankets has come from.”

Provenance has always been a big part of the kilt market, so it’s little no surprise that she found strong support from key customers with whom she trialled the new 100% British wool.

“They love the British story, they immediately thought it was a great opportunity for them,” Dawn confirmed.“They just can't wait to get their hands on it now. With every piece of cloth, we record which yarns go into it.

"So, if a customer phones up and says they’ve just bought a length of Black Watch, is it 100% British? We can tell them the exact percentages.”

Lochcarron now has closer links with British Wool's grading depot, six miles away in Galashiels. There, wool is collected and graded from farms across the Scottish Borders and across Scotland.

“It can take up to five years to train as a sorter – the guys are unbelievable the knowledge they have, how they can identify what to you and I would just look like a pile of greasy fleece,” Dawn


“They love the Cheviot breed that we use for our wool and say it's one of the best because of its consistency and quality.”

She added: “People buy wool products as a legacy – kilts in particular. They are often handed down through the generations and they're beautiful, they’re a really beautiful heirloom piece.

“Our cloth is also a good investment for kilt hire businesses and because it has a longer shelf life, they can turn it around and around and get more for their money. The fabric is not cheap but it performs well.”

The new 100% British wool is working its way through the mill, with many of the yarns already replaced. The intention is for 25% of Lochcarron’s annual purchase to be a completely British product, which amounts to a big investment.

“Because of the way the quality was going to work, we’ve actually started with one of our best selling products – and so it’s quite a substantial amount that we’re converting to an all British source,” she said.

“We’re the opposite of fast fashion. We need to think about the value of what we do. You don’t get much more authentic than Scottish tartan, so if we can work on keeping the supply chain as local as possible while still making commercial sense, then it’s worth it.”

Read more: Add a touch of authentic Lochcarron tartan

It may be early stages for the British wool industry to try to compete with the more mature Australian and Kiwi markets, but it’s a move that more and more British manufacturers are trying to make.

Lochcarron's wool is produced using Scottish Cheviot sheep plus some Romney Marsh fleeces. The yarn is spun in Yorkshire and brought back to Selkirk for dyeing, warping, weaving and finishing of the cloth.