Last week was a wooly week for most of the UK, not just because our temperatures seem to have suddenly dropped, but because it was Wool Week. I got an insight into what wool means for us as we strive to shop more sustainably, when I visited clothing brand Finisterre to get an insight into the type of retail and brand experience that tells us a story.
Wool Week is a campaign to celebrate the beauty of this humble material that holds a range of sustainable properties. It’s a material we might not come across as often on the high street, but HRH Prince of Wales, the leader behind the Campaign for Wool, is fighting for consumer awareness of it’s special properties. You can check out all the qualities for yourself here, but did you know it’s completely renewable and biodegradable, and also a natural insulator meaning it will adjust to your temperature in hot or cold. Whilst getting more fascinated than anticipated by the properties of wool on a google dive, I came across a Life Cyle Assessment showing how sheep are a part of the natural carbon cycle and convert carbon into wool. It’s a true demonstration of the circular economy.
I came across wool week as I entered the Finisterre store for their evening event with Lesley Prior, who looks after the flock of sheep that make Finisterre’s products. Lesley has pioneered the success of Bowmont Merino wool in the UK, and shared her journey to growing this rare breed to a flock of 300 on her farm in Devon. The new Bowmont range of knitwear took pride of place in store, as we all gathered around to hear more about the story behind these products.
The True North label by Finisterre is made up of Bowmont knitwear, but also some pretty innovative products including a coat made of a single piece of material with no seams. The brand has made wool central to it’s offering, but also sustainability and the story behind their products obviously caught my eye. If you buy an item from them it might just be with you for life, since they offer a repair service. Debbie Luffman, who hosted the talk, spoke about their desire to move away from the misconception that wool is just a luxury product by actually making it accessible across their collection.
This inclusive atmosphere was what got me intrigued to come back in a couple of days later and understand more about the brand experience by chatting with Rhys Williams, their Store Manager. When you walk into their flagship store on Earlham Street, you’re immediately brought off London’s busy streets and into a little part of what feels like South England. The wooden features and displays showcase clothes with a warm feeling, and surround a small coffee bar with chatters from relaxed shoppers.
I’m told customers who have turned into brand lovers are encouraged to stay and use the space just to chill out and read with a coffee. This welcoming feeling was far away from what I’m used to on the High street, which is what also took Rhys away from working for a high street brand to boldly pursue a path closer to his own values. I asked Rhys how he came across the brand and what the vision is for driving the brand experience in store. ‘We may be small, but we’re mighty’ he said, as he talked about the brand’s potential to drive something different and not just follow the crowd. He stumbled across the store and supposedly his career in retail with his curiosity to combine people, art and numbers. The store and the brand seems to be centered around people, from Lesley their long term partner and supplier, to the store team who have been part of creating the feel of the store. Lida, who is responsible for creating the wooden displays, mentioned the ‘family feel’ of the brand.
Rhys is helping take the Finisterre brand to its next milestone as it opens another store in Bristol. He talks about how he wants to increasingly work to get a message across to customers that is about more than just the clothing, but about sustainability and a powerful story. When talking about what the message is and why this is important, I’m struck thinking about how high steet retail has sadly lost a story, but sustainability could be a key enabler to bringing that story and brand experience back.
Wool week has certainly inspired me with more than just an insight into the power of this humble material, but also given me an insight into the future of retail. Although it starts with humble materials and humble people brave enough to drive a mission into the heart of what they do, I got a great feeling which I think I share with anyone who has experienced the Finisterre brand, which is that we’re about to see a revolution in the way we experience brands and the story behind our products. If you happen to be near Earlham Street in Seven Dials, experience the Finisterre brand for yourself and tell me what you think about the future of retail.