William Sichel got in touch to tell us about his angora yarn, and to reassure knitters that it can be safely and humanely shorn from the angora rabbits.
"We started the business, which has now become <a title="Orkney Angora" href="http://orkneyangora.co.uk/mainsite/" target="_blank">Orkney Angora</a>, from the ruins of a derelict croft on the Island of Sanday in Orkney, in 1982. We have a unique blend of experience, having been angora farmers ourselves for 20 years, as well as having been fully involved in spinning, dyeing and marketing angora wool and angora thermal clothing.
"This extensive experience is what makes Orkney Angora special. So special that, in light of adverse publicity for angora wool originating from China, in February I conducted a full inspection and assessment of our supplying farm in the Shandong Province of China.
<a href="/sites/default/files/Rabbits.jpg"><img class="alignnone size-full wp-image-23182" alt="Chinese angora rabbits" src="/sites/default/files/Rabbits.jpg" /></a>"I had full and unfettered access to the farm, with my own interpreter and I was impressed with the quiet unhurried manner of the staff in what is one of the biggest angora farms in China. All the wool is sheared off the rabbits in the same way that we used to do it. I was also impressed with the way that they are allowing the rabbits some time each week out of their pens in a 'socialising area'. This is an aspect of management that we want to encourage in the future.
"I assessed the farm as if it was in the UK and operating under our Farm Animal Welfare Code. It passed and I was able to put our fears to rest and reassure customers. We found the farm owners to be very much aware of Western public opinion and willing to respond to suggestions for welfare improvements.
"Arising from that visit and with a long term objective of improving welfare across the Chinese angora industry, I have set up a not-for-profit organisation called Angora Welfare Assessments which offers companies the opportunity to have their supplying farm fully assessed.
"Orkney Angora had a very gradual transition from using all home produced angora to imported angora, as the business expanded and diversified. Nowadays, we are commission spinners and hand dyers, designing our yarns in-house and then having them spun in China. This has enabled us to offer a range of angora blends, including our most popular 'St Magnus' DK 50% angora/50% lambswool, as well as the 'Incredible' 100% pure angora available in DK and 4 ply, although stocks of this are now limited. In addition we have a 30% cashmere/wool blend and a 70% angora/30% wool 4 ply which is popular.
"Hand dyeing has always been our forte and we offer well over 35 shades now, as well as some bespoke colours for some outlets. Sales are through a string of specialist wool shops as well as direct from our website."
You can read the report of Willliam's visit from Scotland's Sunday Post <a title="Scotland Sunday Post" href="http://www.sundaypost.com/news-views/world/from-orkney-to-china-to-chec…; target="_blank">here</a>.