Q: How did you get started/where did the idea come from?
To be honest it all started with a cold office. An ecologist and long-time knitter, Heather was driving around the countryside and thought, ‘with all these sheep around here, surely I can get a jumper out of them’. The Wildlife Trust owned some conservation grazing sheep, and we learned that it cost the Trust more to shear them than what the fleeces were worth. So Heather and Laura did a single trial run, spinning some of the Hebridean fleece. The wool sold and the Wildlife Trust earned enough to offset their shearing losses. The rest as they say is history. And yes, Heather did get her jumper, and it still keeps her warm in the office.
Q: Who came up with the name ‘The Nude Ewe’?
As the saying goes, ‘give credit where credit is due’. After many weeks of researching, polling and generally coming up with nothing, we approached a friend who was especially clever with words. The brief was ‘think of something cheeky’, and the immediate reply was The Nude Ewe! We do love our name and always make sure our friend gets the credit for it.
Q: Will you take my fleeces and have them spun?
At the moment we are not accepting new fleeces for spinning. This is only because we are non-profit and cannot afford to spin new wool until there is a demand for it or we can be sure it will sell. We try very hard to keep enough stock to meet customer demand, without having to hold on to too much. As we grow we do plan to take on more flocks, and have already committed to increasing our products from the coming year’s clip. We do have several criteria for which flocks we adopt. If your flock is suitable we will certainly take your details for future consideration, so please do get in touch with any queries.
We are also happy to add you to our list of fleece providers. We maintain a list of people who own various sheep breeds and who are willing to sell their fleeces directly to hand spinners and other crafters. We do not charge for this service, and if you are contacted by someone you will be responsible for working out postage/pick up arrangements and costs. In time we hope to grow the use of local fleeces by British crafters.
Q: Who spins your fleeces into wool?
Our fleeces are spun by The Natural Fibre Company in Cornwall: www.thenaturalfibre.co.uk.
Q: The Nude Ewe is a CIC: What does that mean?
CIC stands for ‘Community Interest Company’. The CIC legal structure was designed for social enterprises like The Nude Ewe, which exist for social or environmental benefit. A CIC is non-profit but it is not a charity and does not report to the Charities Commission. A CIC is a company and therefore reports to Companies House. CICs are also overseen by the CIC Regulator, who ensures that CICs are acting for the benefit of their stated beneficiaries. For more information on CICs visit the CIC Regulator website www.cicregulator.gov.uk.
Q: Do all the profits really go to your flock owners?
All profits from the wool itself do indeed go to the flock owners. The Nude Ewe does make a bit of additional revenue from knit kits and branded items (t-shirts, badges, stickers etc.) This ‘non-wool’ revenue is reinvested in the company to pay for website hosting, stationery and other items.
Q: You mean you don’t make any money for yourself?
Correct: we are volunteers. We are still a very small company and non-wool revenue is just enough to cover expenses. As a CIC The Nude Ewe is permitted to pay staff. In time if revenue allows the Director might put a little bit away for her retirement! Until then we will continue to run The Nude Ewe on a voluntary basis.
Q: Do you sell wholesale?
We do a small amount of wholesale business to the shops which stock our products, and our wholesale discount is not as generous as those of large yarn companies. For us, wholesale is something of a double-edged sword. Offering a wholesale discount means that our graziers receive less profit. On the other hand being carried in ‘bricks and mortar’ yarn shops does give us profile and a high street presence. Therefore we are quite selective in considering to which and how many shops we offer a wholesale discount.
Q: Can I get samples of your wool?
We are happy to send samples when we have them. Please contact us with any enquiries.
Q: Can I buy your kit patterns/finished items?
With one exception, the short answer is no. The designers of our patterns have given us permission to sell the patterns in a kit; they have not given us permission to sell the patterns or the finished items. Pattern designers have copyright on their designs and can determine how their patterns are used. Copyright law is complicated and – to the extent that we understand it – we take it very seriously. Therefore unless we have been given express permission to do otherwise we only make our patterns available as part of a kit.
The exception to the above is ‘Nancy’, our Nude Ewe logo sheep toy. In this case the designer has specifically allowed us to sell the pattern on its own, as part of a kit or as a finished item.
Q: Do your sheep enter the food chain?
Nude Ewe flocks are conservation grazers, and their purpose is to eat and keep down scrub. They are not kept for slaughter, however a few ram lambs may enter the food chain. Rams will fight with each other so they are not kept in flocks, and are only introduced to the ewes at tupping time. Ram lambs are often castrated at birth: they become wethers and can live with the ewes. A few of the good looking ram lambs might be raised as rams to become tups when they mature. But often a few lambs will when they are large enough go for slaughter. Conservation graziers generally don’t want more sheep than they have space for, so in some years they might not tup the ewes at all and no lambs will be born.