Shepherd to Spinner: My Local Wool
Spinners often ask author and spinning teacher Ashley Martineau (affiliate link) where they can obtain fleeces. She knew there had to be a way to connect shepherds with the spinners looking for local fiber. Facilitating this connection was the inspiration behind My Local Wool, a website that helps fiber farms sell their wool directly to fiber artists and helps makers find resources for local fiber.
Like many shepherds, Colin Siegmund of Siegmund Farm in Connecticut wakes up before dawn, does chores, and manages his flock of Border Leicesters. In addition to this daily work, he shears sheep around New England. Colin works long hours, leaving little room in his schedule for marketing his sheep’s fiber to handspinners in search of fleeces. It takes a lot of time to maintain an online shop or run a booth at a local fiber festival—time that could be spent tending his animals.
Ashley prefers buying fiber from local shepherds such as Colin. She enjoys getting to know the producers, listening to their stories, and meeting the sheep. One of the first fleeces she bought was from one of Colin’s Border Leicesters, and Ashley remembers being told how the sheep got his name. She says, “When he was a 4-H lamb in the show ring being judged, he sneezed a very productive sheepy sneeze on the judge. So gross! He got first prize and a name that day: Booger. And he grew a fantastic fleece.”
Spin Off (SO): How has My Local Wool grown since its launch?
Ashley Martineau (AM): The growth has been slow but steady, which I’m grateful for, as it’s given me time to carefully curate the site as it grows, find ways to improve it, and implement those improvements without people noticing or feeling the change.
SO: Do you include listings from countries outside the United States?
AM: I absolutely want to include worldwide members. The reason I chose “My Local Wool” instead of “My Local Fiber” is because it is worldwide, the term “Wool” means “Animal Fiber” and not just sheep. All fiber animals are welcome. I can see behind the scenes of my mapping software the number and density of searches around the world, and right now, most people are searching in the United States, but people are searching worldwide already, too. I think this could be an amazing resource for fiber and agricultural tourism.
SO: How do fiber producers, shops, festivals, and guilds get listed on the My Local Wool website?
AM: Anyone can search the map and find their local wool, but you need to subscribe to be included in the search results. I wanted this resource to be affordable to everyone, so you can subscribe for as little as $5 a year, choose your own amount to pay, or you can choose a preset subscription price, which covers my time taking your listing, plugging it into the map, and making sure your website link works and your spelling is correct. The community decides what to invest in this project, and I take those dollars and use them for my time, advertising, and marketing. As the site grows, so will the advertising.
There are criteria for each map to help keep things tidy and worth the investment of the subscribers. I’ve defined the purpose and criteria for each map. I screen every listing by visiting their website to make sure the maps they’ve selected are already part of their online presence. If a subscriber wants to be listed as an online shop, they need to have an online shop already full of items for people to purchase. If a subscriber wants to be listed as a yarn shop, they need to have a brick-and-mortar location and regular business hours. If a subscriber wants to be listed as a shearer, they need to have the education, equipment, and ability to travel to farms and shear flocks or herds of animals.
SO: What has delighted you most about the fiber community’s response to My Local Wool?
AM: I get excited when people understand the purpose of this resource and when they can see my vision of what I hope it will accomplish. Some of those highlights are:
- Impacting small farms’ bottom dollar and offsetting more of their expenses.
- Helping shop owners organize more “yarn crawls,” and perhaps even “barn crawls,” where fiber farms network to create events for spinners and makers to tour and buy fleeces.
- Making it easier for artisan dyers to design their own custom-milled yarn and roving bases with local wools and local mills for dyeing and selling online.
- Creating a resource to use when traveling, visiting farms and yarn shops in other areas, and finding breeds and blends that aren’t available locally.
SO: What plans do you have for the future of My Local Wool?
AM: When I first brainstormed this project, I wanted to create a marketplace where people could sell handmade items made with at least 50 percent locally sourced wool. There are many marketplace software programs available online that appeared on the surface to be fully functional, but once I started building a marketplace on these platforms, it became clear that the software was not nearly robust enough to support such a big idea. Technology just hasn’t caught up to that concept, but it will. Niche markets are the future of online retail. And eventually, My Local Wool might just become the fiber community’s 24/7 worldwide and online sheep and wool festival.
For more information, visit www.mylocalwool.com.
Featured Image: Ashley’s two children meet the sheep that provides their mom with fresh fleece. Photos by Ashley Martineau
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