The Yorkshire woman travelling the world to rescue cashmere facing a landfill future

Dec Connolly Editor

Email business@thebusinessjournal.co.uk

Alison Orr from the village of Masham in the Yorkshire Dales was an early adopter of the sustainable fashion movement, long before the terms sustainable and slow fashion became prominent.

Following many years of savvy second-hand shopping and selling, Alison stumbled across an opportunity to source 100% cashmere pieces that would otherwise be sent to landfill. Since her discovery, Alison and her team at family-run Nearly New Cashmere Co have rescued tens of thousands of discarded 100% cashmere items from across the globe to carefully restore these luxury cashmere jumpers.

Sharing her inspiration for setting up Nearly New Cashmere Co, Ali explained: “I have always cared about sustainability and disliked any kind of waste, whether it’s food waste or the fast fashion and throwaway culture we’re now surrounded by. When I discovered a source of 100% discarded cashmere that was set to go to landfill, I just couldn’t bear the thought of the waste – especially when it is such a beautiful, long-lasting and in-demand fabric.

“With that in mind, I purchased a small amount of the cashmere to start repairing and restoring it – which was a huge success. In 2015, I decided to establish the business properly. I always wanted to start and grow a rural business and it was a bonus that I could do so by combining my passion for sustainability and slow fashion.”

When first launching the business, founder Ali, a full-time mother at the time, operated her business from home selling the cashmere products she restored online. Demand for her affordable 100% cashmere jumpers quickly grew and she was able to build a small local team to support the business, including her daughter Immy who is now co-director. In 2019 they took a leap of faith and opened a physical store in the picturesque, North Yorkshire village of Masham.

Explaining how she sources cashmere, Ali commented: “Finding reliable sources of cashmere took a long time. Initially, I had just £500 to spend on stock and discarded cashmere sources don’t tend to be open about who or where they are, so it took a lot of time researching and pushing for people to agree to speak to me and sell to me, but this got easier after eventually getting my foot in the door with some great suppliers.”

Now Ali sources from all over the world including Canada, US, Italy and the UK. However, keen to lower her impact on the environment, Alison now adopts a ‘virtual travelling’ approach wherever possible, working with suppliers via Zoom which has resulted in her working with suppliers in India and Pakistan – without having to physically travel to the countries.

“We now purchase huge quantities of cashmere. People even approach us with cashmere to sell now that we are a well-established brand. The increasing number of vintage sellers has also opened up more avenues for sourcing second-hand and vintage items. I often stumble across good cashmere items by chance, in the likes of second-hand stores and charity shops too.

“Inevitably, discarded cashmere can come to us in not the best of conditions, however, we often get it in great condition too – there is a shocking amount of clothes that are sent to landfill that have never been worn and still have labels on them. Either way though, I have always had a lot of faith in myself and my skilled team to repair and restore cashmere pieces to look great, so we can make luxury cashmere pieces available at an affordable price.”

Committed to promoting the benefits of slow fashion, Ali and her team are keen to spread the word about the benefits of restoring and reusing existing items, particularly cashmere – and buying second-hand, to help lower the impact on the environment, get better value for money and reap the rewards of finding unique one-of-a-kind clothing and accessories.

Ali added: “It’s important for us to help educate our customers on how to be more sustainable and to do as much as we can to relieve the negative impact that the fashion industry has on the planet. We need to move away from the current throwaway culture, so we’re always looking at ways to help – whether that’s through our cashmere repair and restoration service or through our marketing channels where we share tips on second-hand buying and selling, restoring clothing and how to care for cashmere and knitwear”.

Although some stigma remains about purchasing second-hand items, Ali and her team pride themselves on the expertise of their skilled team, who hand-pick and hand-finish each item to an exceptional quality. They also ensure complete honesty about each unique product they sell and the repairs given, so customers can be assured they are buying a quality piece that they can wear for years to come.