Friday, 7 March 2008

New Jacket - all Islay

Jon Paul Lameroux of Nature Trails, tests the new Wilderness Shirt, last autumn with Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall of River Cottage.

After months of testing and and two years of designing my friend, Roger Harrington
and I are now offering the following for birders and bushcrafters.
Made totally on Islay and by hand too we hope it will bring pleasure to all who use it.

I have scribed a few words below to explain...

Why do we need yet another item of clothing?

When is it that you need something that you did not realise you could not live without? Well, I became fed up with the petro-chemical, large business like global corporations keen on improving financial status than customer need, and realised that even well meaning companies were growing beyond their supposed local limits. Whereas I would have purchased something that had a ‘small is beautiful’ feeling and spirit, when I looked into it – things were not quite what they said they were. A meeting with Roger Harrington of Bison Bushcraft, several years ago meant that I had had crossed paths with a similar mind and genre and we soon were talking of the same things. Why couldn’t we get things that we needed to do our jobs? Obviously he, as one of Britain’s best handmade knife makers, realised that that there was more to life than things made in China. Also we knew that cheap was not always the answer and that there are some of us that would not accept that situation, no matter how tempting – especially cost wise. Also, however convenient it maybe to us ‘rich’ westerners, unfairly traded goods are unacceptable to the way we think and operate.

Our work as outdoor teachers, guides
and practitioners require very particular items that really have longevity, solidness and meets with nature’s mirror thus allowing us to blend in and therefore be part of, rather than in conflict with, the wild. So, like the adventurers and explorers of yore we decided to make our own!

Therefore, it had to achieve several things at once:

Natural camouflage
Be weather resistant
Made of natural materials
Be breathable
Be biodegradable
Be strong and functional
Be warm in cold weather and cool in warm weather
Be totally fairly traded
Made in Britain by skilled crafts people

Quite a list and quite high expectations too!

This is when we reached upon Islay. Already there is sheep production, there are wild goats (for the leather trimming), there is a woollen mill, we have button makers and seamstresses, and so all we needed to do was get these together and rather like a great recipe make sure it all worked! It was also very convenient because I happen to live here so bringing all these aspects together would be easier!

Last summer things were ready to go with the design, and by the autumn we had
the wool woven and produced the first garments. We now had to try and test them.
Although this is a continual process, there was an intense period over the winter where we really hammered them! I took one to France and wore it continually; in rain, hail, snow, wind and freezing conditions. It worked just as we had planned! Meanwhile back on Islay one was out with a Stalker and one with a crofter. After a few tweaks and alterations we had the garment ready for the public! So we were then able to take orders. They have been coming in from all sorts of places: Nature watchers, birders, fishermen, rangers, game keepers, land owners and countryside workers and all who like the quality and handmade too! We offer two colour plans – The Highland and Lowland. The Highland is a typical Scottish Tweed and the Lowland version is the same but of a green/brown herringbone pattern.

So how does it work?
The ‘shirt’ is in heavy duty weave that can be worn over a T shirt or pullover. It is a layer that although not waterproof, can be worn in rain as wool has its own waterproof-ness by soaking up to 30% of its weight before ‘leaking. If you need a full waterproof jacket then you need to go for a wax cotton top. Being wool it is flexible, does not rustle (good for nature watching), and is warm and/or cool depending on the weather and climate! The buttons are handmade from Islay antler and the leather trimming from wild goats! So you can use it for a multiple of uses.

The Wilderness Jacket has a cashmere rich hand warmer and lining to the large hood which you can pull right over your head. Good for covering up or even taking a wild nap! Again with the same qualities of the shirts we hope that customers will not need to replace this for many years.

Both items are made to measure – so if you want one, like all good things – you will have to wait!