As part of our founder interview series, we speak with Catherine from Ted and Bessie about sustainable fashion, and all things alpaca!
Where does the name Ted and Bessie come from?
Ted & Bessie were my grandparents names. When they passed away they left me with a little bit of money so I decided to purchase four alpacas and start my knitwear business. I wanted their name to live on so decided to call my company after them.
You decided to buy your first four alpacas before even meeting one! How did you know that you wanted to work with alpacas?
I have no idea! I just love their sweet faces and kind nature, I knew I wanted to work with them. I needed a reason in the first place to buy four alpacas and my background in fashion was a great excuse to go into the knitwear industry.
What has surprised you the most after getting to know your alpacas?
I never realised how calming they are to be around. They have the loveliest little humming sounds (which I have now mastered as a response to communicate with them!) and they require you to be patient and caring. I feel like a more relaxed person when I am around the alpacas.
From the way you talk about your alpacas, surely you must name them! If so, what are a few of your favourite names?
All of my alpacas have names and all come with a personality. They all seem to suit their names and a favourite one is Daydreamer who really is in a world of his own. I also love that one of them, Tamar, named after a river absolutely loves water. I had to get him a paddling pool in the end because he kept trying to swim in his water bucket!
Tell us about the alpaca wool. How is it different to sheep’s wool?
Alpaca is strong, super soft and luxurious. Not only is it light and durable, it does not contain the natural oils found in sheep’s wool. This means it’s great to wear even if you have incredibly sensitive skin. Because the fleece doesn’t contain any oils it means it does not need to be treated or heavily washed to remove them. As such, alpacas produce one of the most environmentally friendly fibres on the planet. Alpacas are great to keep as they do not damage land; they have soft feet and no hooves. They are excellent grazers, and as part of the camelid family they never waste drinking water. You can keep five to an acre which means even the smallest of smallholdings can keep these curious and wonderful creatures.
Wool can be a controversial material.What do you say to those who believe that animal products have no place in fashion?
Alpaca fibre is sustainable because an alpaca will grow a new fleece every year. This must be removed to stop it from becoming too heavy, causing the alpaca to fall ill. It can be devastating and can even kill an alpaca if they are not sheared each year. The fibre can be harvested for the whole life of an alpaca, which can be anything up to 15 years. Knitwear made from alpaca fibre can last a lifetime if it is cared for properly. Many man made fibres are made from plastic. This is terrible for the environment, will not biodegrade and overtime when washed, will pass plastic into our water systems, eventually running to our sea and killing marine life.
‘Ethical fashion’ is hard to define.What does ‘ethical fashion’ mean to you?
It means being completely transparent with our business. Anyone who purchases an item from us will get to meet the alpacas their knitwear has come from. We only source the fibre from alpacas we know are happy and healthy who are sheared professionally each year. No harm or stress is ever caused to our alpacas and people can learn this when they visit and see how well we care for them. To be ethical is knowing exactly where your product came from, right from the source.
What do you look for in other clothing labels that you support?
I look for a story and a passion. If I can get to know the person behind the brand and see their passion for their product it makes me want to support them. Getting a connection with people is key and I love to see small businesses doing well.
Do you think it is the responsibility of the consumer, or the producer, to create a more sustainable fashion industry?
I think a bit of both. The more sustainably you buy the more that can go into continuing that sustainable work. Without our consumers we would not be able to continue looking after our alpacas with such care and expand our herd numbers to produce more sustainable knitwear. However, without brands taking a plunge and starting these sustainable projects there isn’t an option for the consumer to purchase in a more sustainable way in the first place.
How would you like to see Ted and Bessie grow in the future?
My aim in the future is to work with alpaca owners around the UK who also work ethically with their alpacas. This will help to support the UK alpaca fleece market and help smaller herd owners to keep looking after their animals in an ethical way.