Words by Hannah Tapping
Striving for a better future for fashion with a combination of sustainable fabrics and timeless styling.
My first encounter with Celtic & Co. was some 30 years ago at a small warehouse in Newquay, when I ordered my first pair of bespoke pull-on sheepskin boots – a fashion item that was considered de rigueur on the Cornish surf scene. Back then, you could choose the colour of each panel, resulting in some wild and wonderful boots adorning post-surf feet. I was slightly more decorous in my choice of navy suede and brown leather and they are unbelievably still going strong, testament to the quality of fabric and craftsmanship.
Fast forward and the company, while still offering the range of sheepskin slippers and boots that they have become well-known for, has expanded to include its own boutique clothing collection offering a slow-fashion, capsule wardrobe with sustainability at its heart.
Senior Product developer, Morgan Webber-Newman, heads up what is termed as their ‘bought product’ ranges. With a core set of styles, some of which remain in the collections year on year due to their popularity, Morgan works with various suppliers, factories and manufacturers predominantly around the UK but also at some select locations in Europe.
“At the start of the season, once we’ve done our trend research,” explains Morgan,” we decide what the colour palette is going to be and what direction the range is going to take. This is always inspired by Cornwall’s coast and countryside and especially nature’s textures and colourways.”
For the SS22 collection there are three colour stories which follow the seasons. The first is transitional wear designed to take the wearer from winter into spring, with rich shades of green inspired by local woodlands. The second sees a much warmer palette accented with shades of pinks and oranges, echoing the blooms of Cornish spring gardens. The final drop is high summer, very much inspired by washed-out beach views and those bleached and pale tones you find on shells and driftwood. “We always listen to our customers’ likes and wants (they are very vocal and we love them for that!) and their input is hugely important to us. With that in mind, this year’s collection includes new summery knits and wovens and, after launching online with Marks and Spencer, Next and John Lewis, our range now has a broader reach for new customers,” says Morgan.
“As with everything that we develop, it’s all about using natural materials and looking at the most sustainable manufacturing processes. Sustainability in fashion is very much at the fore with new developments, materials and manufacturing processes getting better, cleaner and more planet friendly. As a nation there has certainly been a move away from throwaway fashion; people are buying iconic pieces and realising that they can wear them basically for decades, which is where we position our collections.”
Celtic & Co. don’t feel the need to reinvent the wheel each season; 70% of their range has a season crossover and a large majority of their footwear, outerwear and knitwear is available year-round, kept fresh with colour updates. This gives them a loyal customer base as Morgan explains: “With classic pieces such as our merino crewneck, some regular customers will buy one of each of all the new colours every year!”
Founder and hands-on director, Kath Whitworth adds: “Our customers appreciate value for money, but I think the difficulty lies in that because of the fabrics we use our product is never going to be the cheapest and so one of the challenges that Morgan faced developing our high summer range is that we wanted it to work really well throughout the year. It had to sit well for summer, but when it came to a dress for example, we wanted to extend the wear season so that it could be something worn with a jumper or cardigan and tights in the winter.” By taking this approach, even though you might pay more for a Celtic and Co. piece, its style, versatility and quality means that it won’t date and will outlast cheaper, faster fashion.
Their core knitwear range is testament to this ethos. It is knitted from Geelong yarn, a 100% natural lambswool that rivals cashmere, being just as soft but without the price tag. The yarn comes from a breed of sheep found in Geelong, Australia and is renowned for its fine micron – which basically means that the yarn is very, very fine and very, very soft. The Geelong used by Celtic and Co. comes almost entirely from one spinning mill based in Biella in the north of Italy.
Celtic and Co. chose to work with Lanecardate, a mill that has been operating in the wool business since 1663, not only for its obvious experience and quality but also for its sustainability, transparency and excellent eco-credentials – the mill is certified to Standard 100 by Oeko-Tex 100® which covers all processing steps, from the thread to the end product. To the layman, that means that there are no nasty banned chemicals used in the dyestuffs or cleaning products and the mill also operates under a zero discharge scheme, recovering and treating their effluent water.
Morgan expands: “The wool is fully traceable, right back to the farms in Australia and comes from non-mulesed flocks. It has two certifications, one from the SustainaWOOL Integrity Scheme and the other from the Responsible Wool Standard. This means that we know that not only is the animal welfare very good, but that the farm and surrounding land the sheep live on is also being well looked after.” The vast majority of the Geelong pieces are knitted in the UK, with some being made in Portugal and include the hugely popular Geelong Slouch Roll Neck that features in the collections all year round.
These pieces have to be hand-washed due to their purity and so Celtic and Co. have developed their own laundry detergent that is suitable for use on all of their knitwear; although as pure wool has anti-microbial properties it is almost self-cleaning. “I’ve worked in the fashion industry for a long time,” says Morgan, “but since joining Celtic and Co. it has given me a completely different outlook on laundry and caring for my clothes – I was definitely over-washing! If you make better buying choices you can wash your clothes less, which means using less water and less electric, which is a win-win.”
A fabric called Lyocell is also a feature of Celtic’s new collections. It’s a form of viscose that has been developed by the Austrian yarn company Lenzing, which operates a closed loop manufacturing process. The fabric is made using wood pulp from FSC managed forests, so not only is it a renewable source, it is also biodegradable and compostable. The yarn is taken from the Austrian spinning mill and woven very locally to the factory, where garments are all dyed and washed together to give a lovely soft, tumbled finish. As the Lyocell is a breathable material the pieces are easy to wear as they don’t crease easily.
Taking the recycled story further, Celtic’s new canvas trainers are made from linen spinning waste. The leftovers and offcuts are woven into a canvas material that is used for the uppers, while the soles of the trainers are from a recycled rubber. Their printed yarn jumpers are knitted from recycled cotton, spun in Italy and GRS certified, which is the global recycled standard for textiles. The yarn is actually made from recycled jeans, re-spun and overprinted to obtain the textured and mottled effect. Cotton vests are made mostly from recycled linen, which is again made from post-consumer waste, while their 100% recycled linen pieces, such as the Linen Open Knit Cover Up Beach Dress, are also made from spinning waste. As Morgan explains she is careful to select these yarns from the best mills “so that if you put it next to an equivalent that has been made from virgin material you wouldn’t know the difference”.
“We are very much concerned with using natural and recycled materials,” sums up Kath, “we avoid anything manmade, and also recycled manmade materials as well. We’re not into things like recycled polyester as although it purports to be climate friendly, it really isn’t, because at the end of the end of the use of the garment (bearing in mind we hope our customer will keep the garment until it’s worn out) we want it to be as easy for the customer to dispose of as possible. So, if we make sure that the majority of our products are compostable, or biodegradable, even if they get put into landfill as rags, they’re not doing any harm.”
“If you buy a recycled polyester garment, it can’t be recycled again. There is a massive noise at the moment about desert islands whose beaches are littered with plastic water bottles. Well, in 15 years’ time that litter could very well be recycled polyester t-shirts and blouses. We try to take everything as far down the line as we can and ensure that we’re being as honest and as transparent to the consumer as we can.”
The SS22 collection from Celtic and Co. is featured online and at their new flagship store at Indian Queens, where click and collect is also available.