With a spell at Vogue magazine and a 15-year stint as the Sunday Mirror’s fashion editor under her belt, Judy Clarke is no stranger to women’s style. But while Judy has made a career out of staying on top of the fickle shifts of seasonal trends, a new day job sees her designing timeless pieces under her own label, noop, using exquisite yarn from her alpacas.
‘When I worked at Vogue I was in my mid-20s’, Judy told me.’ At that time I have to admit that farming had never come into my thoughts.’ That all changed 20 years ago following a move from London to Somerset. ‘We wanted some animals to eat down the grass in our fields’, Judy recalls. ‘My husband, Giles, read an article about alpacas – and the very next day we bought four.’ And just like that, Judy and Giles became two of England’s very first alpaca owners.
Alpacas are a popular choice with farmers as they protect chickens and lambs from foxes; they’re also much better grazers than horses and cows as they don’t churn up the ground or damage fields with their feet.
But these fabulous creatures are far more than fluffy lawnmowers: as Judy discovered, they have wonderful personalities and their fleeces are very special indeed.
Alpaca yarn is lanolin free and therefore hypo-allergenic, meaning it can be worn by babies, children and adults who are unable to wear other wools next to their skin. It has a hollow fibre, which renders it uniquely light and incredibly warm, and has a rich, silky feel against the skin.
‘I’d been breeding alpacas for 20 years when I decided to create something with their luxurious fleeces’, Judy explains. ‘I set up Pure English Alpaca under the noop designs label; noop is a nickname my husband Giles calls me, so it seemed very appropriate when thinking of a name.’
Judy now has 58 alpacas, each named according to an annual theme. The latest, appropriately, is fashion houses – meaning udy’s once again mingling with the likes of Missoni, Chanel, Dior and Cardin.
In all other respects the life of an alpaca farmer is a far cry from the gloss and glamour of haute couture: feet need clipping, fleeces need shearing and a complicated breeding programme must be established and observed. ‘I take great care in sorting the fleeces and send only the highest quality saddles to the mill in England to be made into yarn’, Judy says. The rest of the fleece is washed and processed to make the cushions for noop designs.
Judy’s background in the fashion industry was a great launchpad for creating and designing her own products, and her experience also made her understand the importance of quality yarn when making luxurious knitwear and throws.
While Judy faces competition from the flow of cheap imports of variable quality from Peru and Chile, she has made sure that provenance and sustainability remain at the heart of noop.
‘I am very proud that all my alpacas have been bred in England where they graze in pesticide-free fields’, Judy says. ‘The fleeces are sent to a British mill, the knitwear is manufactured in Leicester and the fabrics are woven in Bristol.’
The opening of Bristol Weaving Company has allowed Judy to have fashion fabrics woven for men’s and women’s clothing, opening a whole new world of possibilities for noop. Giles now has his very own alpaca gilet and Judy is even looking into using woven alpaca fabric instead of wallpaper in homes.
‘The fashion industry is definitely shifting towards quality British goods that don’t have huge carbon footprints from travelling on long haul flights’, Judy says. ‘I can only hope that the high street will support fashion labels and products made from animals like mine that have been bred with the ultimate welfare, care and attention.’
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