Q: What makes you stand out?

A: We rescue, sheep that would have otherwise gone to slaughter for missing a pregnancy, lameness or not having spotless fleeces. I wanted cruelty-free British wool for my luxury clothing brand, and this was the only way to do it. When I began this business in 2007 the UK was importing approximately 88% of its wool, largely from the other side of the world in Australasia where they routinely 'mulese' sheep (a practice that involves taking the skin off their behinds). But if you want British wool you have to source it from the British Wool Marketing Board and it is impossible to know what flock it has come from as it is all banded together. You don't know if the sheep or lambs were stunned before slaughter or exported live for slaughter on the continent. Both practices inflict unnecessary suffering. I also wanted to revive a once vibrant British textile industry; the businesses and services supplying the mills and their workers were folding and no other industry was coming in to take its place.

Q: Why do you care?

A: I have always been very sensitive and certain things are very painful to me, in particular animal suffering. The house where I grew up in Yorkshire backed onto fields of livestock and I remember the days when lambs were separated from their mothers. It was harrowing hearing them cry. This is my response to the abject cruelty and total disregard for other living creatures.

Q: Is being responsible good for business?

A: What is needed is compassionate business models to tackle animal suffering; you can have a symbiotic relationship with animals that doesn’t involve cruelty. I wanted to introduce the world’s first welfare standard on wool. Tesco were interested but the British Wool Marketing Board thought it would undermine their brand; that they already operated to a sufficiently high standard. Clothes designers should be able to develop direct relationships with the sheep farmers, the dyers, weavers, spinners and the finishers. Instead you have to buy your wool from merchants and very little of what you pay goes to the farmer – it often doesn’t cover the cost of shearing the sheep. But I think there is a demand for supporting British industries and a growing concern for higher animal welfare standards.

Q: Has the business changed you?

A: When you start to embrace something and you investigate, you realise your own hypocrisy. We’re not all saints but we have our own personal evolution; that way society and the world can change. We all have that responsibility to improve ourselves. I love clothes and I used to shop in Harvey Nichs. I also used to buy leather jackets but I basically don’t buy any clothes anymore; I already have so many! I’ve become acutely aware of the levels of waste in the clothing industry and I don’t want to add to that. When I next have to buy something I’ll be sure to be very discerning and choose organic cotton, and avoid cashmere, wool and basically anything that is derived from animals as there is no traceability. Sadly there is still too little demand to know the provenance of clothing materials even though there is comparatively much greater interest in meat provenance – they come from the same source!

Q: What do you like most about your job?

Giving voice to things I care about; putting an idea out in the world and making it work.

Q: Plans for the future?

A: Organic denim, cruelty-free silk and cashmere. Nobody else is doing this. I want Izzy Lane to fulfil its potential and be that voice for animal welfare in the fashion industry. I want to set the bar as high as it should be.


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