Izzy Lane is launching its winter collection of beautiful pieces made from rescue sheep wool. Stephanie Smith talks to pioneering founder Isobel Davies. Pictures by Nicky Emmerson.
The sheep are getting old, but the clothing they create is as beautiful as ever. The Izzy Lane flock, which lives serenely near Richmond, is now around 300-strong, although there were originally 600 of them. A sheep’s lifespan is similar to that of a dog, about 14 years, and many now are dying.
Isobel Davies, founder of Izzy Lane, has never bred from them, bar a few accidents. They are all sheep she bought to rescue, so they could live out their lives in peace and help her make her brand’s ethical clothing collections.
Izzy Lane pieces are timeless and understated, easy to wear and beautifully made, more covetable than ever now, as the flock that makes them dwindles. This season there are asymmetric and bottle-sleeve sweaters, and pea coats.
In the 10 years since Isobel launched Izzy Lane, much has changed, although not the brand and company itself, more the ethical ethos and manufacturing climate in the UK. Back when she started, there was almost nowhere local to process and manufacture wool. “There were mills closing every single day and I was absolutely horrified,” she says, adding that farmers were burning wool or burying it because there was no value in it.
Then, values shifted. “Suddenly ‘Made in Britain’ became in vogue again,” she says. “All the companies that had been exiting the UK were all clambering to come back but, of course, it was too late.”
Still, investment is happening, and there is now demand to produce once more in the UK, says Isobel, although that can sometimes lead to production queues. Isobel oversees the whole process from sheep to finished garment, with production taking place in West Yorkshire and the Scottish Borders.
Izzy Lane’s development was made possible by the success of Isobel’s original (and ongoing) business, Farm Around, the first organic delivery box service, which she started when she was living in London as a singer-songwriter in 1994. The award-winning company is still going strong 23 years later, and there’s now a Northern branch called Farmaroundnorth.com.
Isobel was brought up in Hilton, a village near Yarm, and went to Yarm Grammar School. She left at 16, went to Paris for a couple of years, and then to London, where she took up first art then music, playing the saxophone, performing jazz and indie pop, achieving record deals and touring Europe. Noting a lack of organic produce and outlets for farmers, she developed and launched Farm Around.
In 2003, when her father’s health was ailing, she moved back to Yorkshire to be near his home in Richmond. “I’d had enough of London life and, having lost both parents, I found such solace in the landscape and in nature,” she says.
In 2007, she launched Izzy Lane, and quickly established it as a leading ethical fashion brand in the UK and internationally, winning business and fashion awards. The brand has shown collections across the world, had collaborations with Hobbs and Topshop, and exports all over the globe. Isobel herself has become a prominent campaigner for animal welfare and British wool.
As well as clothing for women and men, Izzy Lane offers Wensleydale socks, Shetland walking socks, dog coats and throws, and is about to start making rugs, using sheep whose wool is not suitable for clothing. “I’ve collected this wool and I’ve blended it with arctic dog fur. An Arctic explorer has been sending me the fur that he combs from his dogs every year from Greenland. It arrives in a box,” she says.
Back to the ageing flock of sheep. Isobel would have to replenish them if she wanted to keep the business going, but is not sure that she wants to. “It’s a really difficult industry unless you get serious backing,” she says. “I think, when they die, the brand dies.” This, she estimates, will be in about five years. In the meantime, however, it’s business as usual and a collaboration with at least one high-profile fashion house is in the pipeline.
“I don’t really see Izzy Lane as going on forever. I do see it as ephemeral,” she says. “The world has changed out there as well. When I started, you had to educate people about wool, but there is this tidal wave now of feeling towards animal welfare. This next generation is very switched on and clued up, and I don’t think they want to make the same mistakes as the last generation.”
The end of Izzy Lane will be the start of another chapter, in the form of a book that Isobel is writing about the story of the label and her friendship with Ernest Ayre, her shepherd, who had led a quiet, reclusive life until their meeting. “And then I arrived with all these sheep and TV crews,” she says. “He’s such a character. He says things and I think ‘I must write that down’. I’ve got the book in my head and the publisher interested. So I think, rather than a fashion brand, Izzy Lane will end up being a story and a book and a film.”
As for Izzy Lane the clothing brand, Isobel says: “I’ll let its story just play out, and then I’ll move on again to something else.”
All items from Izzy Lane on Izzylane.bigcartel.com. Exclusively for Yorkshire Post readers, there is 15 per cent off quoting discount code YP7 up to December 25, 2017.