I’m really excited to reveal something which has been a long time in development and of which all of us at KDD are really proud – Coracle.

Before I became a manufacturer of yarn and knitwear I was a consumer of both these things. And, as a consumer, I often found myself deeply troubled by the lack of information about the fibres and materials, the provenance and practices, involved in producing the things that I liked to buy and work with and wear. How were the people who made this sweater treated? What was the environmental impact of creating this kind of yarn? Had the manufacturers of these garments thought about the sustainability as well as the profitability of the practices involved in their production?

When I began to manufacture yarn, and later, to design and commission knitwear, I began to understand why so few retailers ever really fully addressed these questions. Yarn and knitwear are industries where, on the one hand, margins are very tight, and on the other, products are frequently copied. Perhaps understandably, then, manufacturers can be very cautious and very cagey about sharing the story of what it is they actually do. But as a curious designer-maker, who really wanted to know everything about what it was that I was making, I found this secrecy extremely frustrating. With some manufacturers I approached, it proved difficult to ascertain even basic information about subcontracting, animal welfare issues, labour rights, and the environmental impact or regulation of the processes involved in what they did.

This lack of transparency is a real problem for any designer-maker business who thinks carefully about things like provenance and process and who also wants to be totally open and accountable about such matters to their customers. How can KDD describe the raw wool we buy as “ethical” or “sustainable” if we don’t know how the animals who raised the wool are treated, or whether the water used to scour it is processed carefully and efficiently, to the best environmental standards? And if (as sometimes occurs) a manufacturer who we’ve commissioned to carry out a process subcontracts the work without informing us, how can we remain confident that the practices of that subcontractor meet the high ethical standards we set ourselves as a company? (Working with British manufacturers is certainly no simple guarantee of either quality or ethics, and for further discussion of how much contemporary “Made in Britain” discourse arises directly out of the racist legacy of empire see this post which I wrote last year)

When manufacturing yarn and knitwear, a frustrating lack of transparency often begins right at the bottom with fibres and materials; each link in a processing chain then simply closes the door behind it, and this opacity is merely reinforced by the top of an industry that remains all too willing to hide its dirty secrets. So in this context, it’s no wonder that either small designer-maker businesses or thoughtful consumers — who are actually interested in sustainable, local production — are unable to discover how a pullover was produced, by whom, and where the wool used to knit it actually came from.

Last year I decided to reinvest the profits we made from our new range of snoods and pullovers into a new manufacturing project. And I set KDD a challenge: could we manufacture a 100% wool, 100% British garment from scratch which we were satisfied had full manufacturing transparency, from sheep to finished sweater? Coracle is the result.

Designed by, and exclusive to KDD, Coracle’s production begins with a top-quality blend of BFL and fine Masham fleeces, which are selected from flocks raised to high welfare standards in Yorkshire. From sheep to skein, all processes in the production of the yarn used in Coracle are then carried out within a fully traceable 50 mile radius. Coracle’s yarn is spun by innovative worsted specialists, Laxtons, and the sweaters are expertly machine knitted and finished in the Midlands.

The really refreshing thing for me when creating Coracle was being able to completely trust the people I was working with; to ask questions which would be immediately and frankly answered, enabling me to know exactly what was happening at every stage of Coracle’s production. And the key to achieving that kind of understanding was Laxtons‘ Alan Thorber. Passionate about British wool, and passionate about yarn processing, Alan also really understands his market, and (though he would never blow his own trumpet about it) has a remarkable feel for colour as well. The muted blue and pink we selected for Coracle are the result of careful overdyeing of the BFL / Masham fleece blend that Alan developed – I love these two dusky shades so much!

Coracle is a hardy, robust outdoor garment knitted into a warm and squishy fabric that’s very similar to hand-knit fisherman’s rib or brioche. It’s a really comfortable (and comforting) garment to wear, either as a warm outer layer in lieu of a jacket or coat, or indoors in a chilly house in which (if you are like us) you are loathe to switch the heating on until the clocks go back in late October.

Coracle’s shape and sizing is also designed for every body. It’s a garment whose design (factoring in positive ease) works really well for different body shapes.

Fenella and I are both a UK size 8, and are wearing the first size.

Jane’s a UK 12 and wears the second.

And Felix is a UK 20 and looks fantastic in Coracle’s third size.

Tom designed Coracle’s beautiful branding.

And earlier this year, KDD was very proud to receive the Scottish Business and Product Innovation Award from the FSB for the development and production of Coracle (click the link to see Tom and Jane receiving our award!)

But with or without such wider industry recognition, Coracle is a project of which all of us at KDD feel very proud as an example of what can and might be done in British garment manufacturing. And because we aren’t wholesaling Coracle, we are able to sell the pullover at a very reasonable price (£120.00) that still reflects the exceptional quality of the materials and processes involved in its production, and the fair wages paid to everyone who had a hand in developing and making it.

A traditional coracle is a vessel, made from sustainable, natural materials, which carries transient human bodies, and which, as a made-thing, sits very lightly both on the earth and water. These are the values and characteristics of our Coracle too. We hope you love it just as much as we do.

Buy Coracle from the KDD shop
Reflections on Making things “Locally”
Coracle wins the FSB Scotland Business and Product innovation Award