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Making Sheepskins – the second oldest profession in the world

How old are sheepskins, in terms of human history, how did we get to where we are today?

Sheepskins get just one mention in the Bible, and not a terribly nice mention at that:

They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated.

70's Only Fools and Horses star, David Jason, as Dell Boy

After the 70’s sheepskin coats of Dell Boy and Minder fame became unfashionable, a small group of people met in a pub in the West Country to decide what could be done to promote the product they believed in. They had little money, but a great love of the product. The public at that time were seeing sheepskin as hard wearing but unfashionable.

That small group commissioned a family run public relation firm called Wordsworth:

Wordsworth undertook a successful low budget local and national press campaign, portraying Sheepskin in a new light as soft and sexy, rather than practical and hardwearing. The Clothes Show began an immensely influential BBC TV run on winter Sunday afternoons, regularly attracting audiences of 6 – 10 million across the nation and internationally – Industry Report

What followed was a whirlwind for the industry, Vivienne Westwood exhibited models wearing skimpy sheepskin bras and knickers and the public imagination shifted beyond the hard wearing sheepskin coats of the 70’s and into the more deserving soft and sexy place sheepskins inhabit today. A £2000 prize was offered to design students and Clothes Show presenter, Jeff Banks, helped to promote these new sexy outfits and accessories far and wide.

In fairness though, our earliest ancestors; who were using hides and skins long before the times of biblical stonings, were probably after the more practical aspects offered by sheepskin, its warmth, for example, perhaps being instinctively drawn to its hypoallergenic nature, and almost certainly the way it draws moisture away from the skin, keeping the wearer feeling fresh (it’s still used today by the medical industry to prevent pressure sores).

How long have humans tanned sheepskins?

In the stone age, fur was crucial to survival in the northern world and a sheepskin cape was found on a bog body in Denmark that was dated from 365-116 BC. Here in the UK, skins were being tanned along side the Thames since Roman times, in fact the tanneries only ceased production in the 70’s, meaning Del Boy’s coat could very well have been made right where the well loved Only Fools and Horses was set.

Deep in the West Country, where our sheepskins are made, is the last stronghold of the UK tanning industry.

The Industry is now [in 2006] quite clear that ways must be found to ensure the two thousand year old UK tanning tradition, currently vested in the South West of England region, is passed to the next, properly trained and equipped generation of woolskin technicians, scientists, designers and professional management. – industry report

At Dartmoor Sheepskins we think sheepskins need to move on from Del Boy, move on from Vivienne Westwood’s soft and sexy, and inhabit a well deserved place as a daily luxury in family life. Nearly all of our friends have sheepskins in their homes, most of them bought one when they had a baby on the way, just like we did, many have several sheepskins. We hope you too can find your own perfect bespoke sheepskin with us. Tanning skins may be ‘the second oldest profession in the world’, but a freshly laundered sheepskin is every bit as luxurious as the day you first snuggled it.

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