How innovation saved a sheep-farming town in Devon

A product designer has saved a sheep-farming community by inventing a brand new material that utilises wool.

Buckfastleigh is a quiet market town nestled in the rolling hillsides of Devon, England. For years the town had supplied Herdwick wool to businesses across the country, and sheep farming was the heart and soul of local commerce.

However, in recent years farmers found that their wool, which was not the highest quality grade, was no longer sought after and was being replaced by other available materials. Soon the farmers found themselves in the unenviable position of their wool supply far outweighing demand.

Supply of Hemsbury wool far outweighed demand and tons were going to waste.

Then Justin Floyd, a marine product designer, moved to Buckfastleigh with his wife Hannah and heard about the struggle of the sheep farmers, who had now resorted to burning excess wool and admitting that it was costing them more to shear the sheep than the wool was worth. When a local carpet factory closed, the community became despondent and the residents lost hope of regaining their thriving wool-trading reputation.

Floyd felt a strong urge to use his product design background to help the community. Having worked with composites like fibreglass and carbon fibre, he had an idea to create a completely new substance that would utilise the wool in a new way, and bring back the demand and with it jobs for those now desperately in need.

We got some wool and started playing. We didn't know what we would end up with, but knew that if we just started, something would happen.”

He spent months experimenting with compounds and eventually emerged with Solidwool, a brand new material that uses Herdwick fleece as its primary component and can be shaped in any way needed. It’s like fiberglass, but with the visual texture of wool.

Solidwool's Hemsbury Chair.

The very first Solidwool product Floyd introduced to the public was the Hembury chair, which he thought would best showcase Solidwool’s aesthetic and practical qualities. The chair was so well received that it prompted collaborations with other product designers like Artifact Uprising, Fan Optics and Blok Knives

The wool is naturally a sustainable resource and Floyd insists that the product be as “green” as possible, using bio-resins instead of heavy industrial toxic resins.

Solidwool have collaborated with Blok Knives.

Solidwool is made up of a number of different stories that combine enterprise, innovation, job creation and the rejuvenation of a sheep farming town that had lost hope, but now find themselves (and their Herdwick sheep) pioneering product design.

As Floyd simply puts it:

"We believe in creating beautiful, soulful products, designed to last.”

The Hemsbury Chair was Solidwool's prototype and has been widely received prompting collaborations with other product designers.The chair was so well received that it prompted collaborations with other product designers like Artifact Uprising, Fan Optics and Blok Knives.

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