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Cashmere re-loved at Shrewsbury sewing workshop

It’s a sewing workshop that is taking recycling to a new level.

Emily Cox (matcher/seamstress), Emma Gregory (head of production), Simone Goward (matcher) and Sally-Ann Said (shop manager), at Turtle Doves in Wyle Cop, Shrewsbury
Emily Cox (matcher/seamstress), Emma Gregory (head of production), Simone Goward (matcher) and Sally-Ann Said (shop manager), at Turtle Doves in Wyle Cop, Shrewsbury

Every year Shropshire-based Turtle Doves saves tens of thousands of cashmere jumpers from going to landfill by turning them into one-of-a-kind accessories.

Now the business is giving shoppers an insight into the process of turning textile waste into new products such as its flagship fingerless gloves.

It has opened what is believed to be the UK’s first ever ‘while you wait’ recycled cashmere workshop in Shrewsbury town centre.

Customers will be able to pick the product and exact colour they would like and while they wait, they can enjoy a cup of their favourite brew while Turtle Dove seamstresses expertly handcraft their accessory from secondhand cashmere knitwear.

“A lot of people don’t know where their clothing has been made, how it has been made, who has made it and what working conditions it has been made under, says Turtle Doves’ chief executive Graham Holbrook.

“At our workshop, we will make it in front of their eyes and they will be able to watch the process from start to finish. The idea is that the customer can come into the workshop, have a cup of coffee or tea and talk to the seamstresses while their product is being made exactly how they want it.

“They will walk out with a one-of-a-kind accessory they can treasure for years to come.”

Customers can even bring in their own jumper to be transformed – as long as it’s been washed and is 100 per cent cashmere.

Head of production Emma Gregory

The company has more than 200 workers, the majority of which are self-employed seamstresses and cutters, and the new workshop is located next door to its thriving high street shop in Wyle Cop, which opened its doors last year.

Since Turtle Doves – named after the Cockney rhyming-slang for gloves – was founded in 2009, it has prevented 450,000 cashmere jumpers from going to landfill – the equivalent to 140 tonnes of jumpers, or 20 olympic-sized swimming pools.

Over 150,000 jumpers were saved from landfill in the last year alone, says Graham.

“Around 30 million cashmere products are thrown out around the world every year, which is astonishing. It’s not just about reducing the amount going to landfill, it’s also about making the clothing last longer.”

Cashmere is known for its extreme softness, warmth and lustrous quality due to its fine fibres. It is typically finer, softer and lighter than sheep’s wool, and can be three times more insulating.

The fibre itself comes from a goat and, although originally from the Kashmir Valley in Northern India, it is now farmed in Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan and Iran as well as Australia, New Zealand and Scotland.

Turtle Doves uses only 100 per cent cashmere that is quality checked, washed and de-fuzzed where necessary so it’s ready to be worn again.

Simone Goward and Emily Cox in the Turtle Doves workshop

When the business first started, the team would buy jumpers from local charity shops that could not have been re-sold on the shop floor because of holes, marks and other signs of wear and tear.

But as demand for their products continued to grow, they began sourcing second-hand cashmere from textile waste merchants.

Innovative and carefully constructed designs mean they re-use at least 90 per cent of each jumper. Their own small pieces of cashmere waste go back into the textile industry to be re-worked into either recycled yarns or industrial textiles, such as underlay.

Customers can also send in their old cashmere jumper and in return receive a pair of fingerless gloves.

Every pair is unique and they also double up as wrist warmers and support people suffering from Raynaud’s, circulatory problems, arthritis and other health issues affected by cold weather.

The business also offers a ‘closed loop’ recycling system of its own. Any Turtle Doves product which has come to the end of its time can be returned to them and they will re-use what they can and safely recycle the rest.

In 2015, Turtle Doves won the Green Apple Award, in recognition of environmental best practice, at a ceremony held at the Houses of Parliament.

Graham says there has been a growing interest in sustainable, British-made products in recent years as well as a growing desire to support homegrown businesses.

“Since the pandemic people are being more careful about buying British products and buying locally.”

The team is looking forward to meeting customers at the workshop and plans for the future include offering an embroidery service.

It is also running a variety of classes to help people learn new skills, such as knitting, embroidery and rag rug making, which will launch on Tuesday, May 24.

“We’re going to listen to customers’ ideas and see what they want us to offer,” says Graham.

To book a class or donate a cashmere jumper visit turtle-doves.co.uk or call 01743 562022.

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