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There’s a reason Australian sheep ranchers invented Ugg boots, and it wasn’t because they wanted to look like trendy white girls

woman in ugg sheepskin boots
Leather boots are no good when you have to wrestle sheep all day

Seriously, there’s a reason Ugg boots were made, and the clue is in the wool. Sheep wool contains lanolin, which is corrosive to leather, Australian shearers have been wearing sheepskin boots since the 1920’s. The term ‘ugg’ is in generic use in Australia and simply means sheepskin boots, in fact it was only in the 1980’s that the name “Ugh” was trademarked.

There’s a couple of theories put forward as to how the boots were named, ranging from an early manufacturer’s wife exclaiming that they were ugly, to being named after the Fug Boots worn by British Pilots during World War I.

I’ve got a different theory though, and it centres upon the social skills of Australian sheep shearers….

I wonder if the name pays homage to the communication skills of men who live hundreds of miles away from their nearest neighbor. Men can who wrestle a sheep in the crook of their right arm, whilst simultaneously shaving the beast with their left. 

“The whole thing was over within was over within twelve seconds and the only sound that came out of his mouth was “Ugh” – Australian Sheep

Wherever the name comes from, it was more recently that the boots became “cool”…

In the 1970s, ugg boots became popular among competitive surfers. After movie theatres in Sydney banned ugg boots and ripped jeans, the footwear became somewhat popular in the youth market as a sign of rebellion – Wikipedia

As well as the symbolic rebellion embodied in ugg boots, the surfers enjoyed the warmth of sheepskin after a day spent in the sea. The boots were tough and warm, and could stand being close to the fire on a cool evening on the beach.

We love sheepskins for the many of the same reasons, and I tend to think you will too (even if you don’t farm sheep).

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Want to keep your baby cool in the heat of summer? Use Sheepskin.

Keep baby cool in summer on a sheepskin

I do like surprises; one which delights me is the cooling properties of sheepskin.

In the heat of the summer some of the wisest professional drivers will be sitting on sheepskin. And some of the happiest babies will be sleeping on them.

The fleece of sheepskin has excellent insulating properties and it is also resistant to flame and static electricity. Wool is considered by the medical profession to be hypoallergenic. Sheepskin is a natural insulator, and draws perspiration away from the wearer and into the fibers. There, it traps between 30 and 36 percent of its own weight in moisture. Wikipedia

This advice about keeping Babies cool in the summer heat (from eczema advice site,

“protected from the sun and using sheepskin liner in the pushchair can really help keep your little one fresher – the open pile of the fleece allows air to circulate under the body so they don’t get as hot and sweaty (but do steer clear of this if your baby’s eczema is triggered by lanolin, which is derived from the natural oils found in wool). On really hot days, we have a couple of cold packs that we slide under the sheepskin to keep the kids cool on the ride into town”

We bought our first sheepskin for our baby girl to sleep on, chiefly because it felt instinctively right, nothing else seemed soft enough for our tender little baby, we only found out later how good our choice had been. It seems that children who have spent time on sheepskin may actually carry benefits for the rest of their lives.

German researchers found babies who had slept on animal skin in their first three months of life were much less likely to develop asthma and allergies by the time they were 10. They say microbes found in animal skin could help protect against asthma and allergies by strengthening the immune system. Mail Online

Here at Dartmoor Sheepskins we can’t choose your motivation for wanting a sheepskin, whether it’s to soften a bed for a loved one who is immobile, whether it’s to keep the driver comfortable on a long journey, or, like us, because it’s the only thing soft enough for new born skin. We can’t even choose your sheepskin – only you can do that, but we CAN guarantee that you’ll be getting the highest quality tanning, on sheepskins as unique and special as your family.


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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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Instructions for washing sheepskins

Here at Dartmoor Sheepskins we feel that life is for living, and as such you may well find yourself needing to clean your well-used sheepskin. This is a quick guide on how to wash a sheepskin.

We often get asked how to wash a sheepskins, is it even possible? The good news is that you can wash a sheepskin in the washing machine if you follow these simple rules.

How to wash a sheepskin in a washing machine: to

  1. To wash a sheepskin, set the washing machine at a low temperature – 30°C or lower. Your machine might have a WOOL setting, this will work well.
  2. Use a small amount of Biological or Non-Biological Washing Powder.
  3. Avoid additives like Fabric Softeners or Stain Removers.
  4. Tumble Dry on a Low Heat to prevent the wool becoming distorted, again if your machine has a wool setting this should work well – don’t worry if not, just keep the temperature down.
  5. Shake the sheepskin out when dry, and enjoy!

Please Note:

This information does not imply any guarantee, we only guarantee the quality of sheepskins we supply ourselves. Inferior sheepskins may have thin or poorly tanned hide, and as such may deteriorate over several washes, or even in just one wash. The sheepskins we supply will retain quality over many years, and can be washed using this method many times. We even used one as a baby changing mat, and washed it very regularly, it has lasted for years. As with many things in life, the better the quality you start with, the better the result you end up with.

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Are Sheepskins Ethical?

Are sheep slaughtered to make sheepskins?

Are sheepskins OK for the environment?

A sheepskin is a sheep’s skin and has come from an animal that has been slaughtered.

Dartmoor sheepskins come from animals that have been slaughtered for meat. Sheepskins are a byproduct of the meat industry. Fewer than 1 in 200 sheepskins are tanned (0.045%), the rest are treated as hazardous waste.

We eat well over 15 million sheep each year in the UK, but we tan only 60,000 sheepskins. Instead of using this resource, we destroy it.

At Dartmoor Sheepskins we believe that non-toxic biodegradable sheepskin should be used, not burned or buried, nor replaced with plastic fabrics.

Keeping it real

Every second of every day a lorry load of plastic fabrics are burned, or added to landfill. Every year, millions of sheepskins do the same. A sheepskin will last for many years, even if given the most basic level of care. And at the end of its long and useful life, a sheepskin has the good grace to rot into the earth. It returns.

Friends of the Earth commissioned a study which found microfibers even in our own selves. From the report:

Washing machines and wastewater treatment plants aren’t designed to trap the minute plastic fibres that our clothes shed during washing. Many of these fibres sneak into our waterways and ultimately the oceans. And lots are caught up in sludge at the treatment plants – which is then sprayed over our soils as fertiliser.

Friends of the Earth

“In 2005 [we ate] 14.1million lambs (+ 2.2million ewes and rams) Only 60,000 UK skins p.a. are processed by the remaining UK tanning sector, less than 0.45% of the total”2015 Sheep Industry Report

Almost all British sheep live outdoors and receive the highest levels of animal welfare. Sheep raised on Dartmoor, for example, will see few fences in their entire lives.

Go back less than two decades and wool was the primary reason for sheep farming in Britain. Wool comes from living animals that have been shaved before the weather gets too hot. In 2001 the ratio changed in favour of meat – we currently keep (a lot) more sheep to eat. This is the source of our sheepskins.

We cannot address the needs of people who cannot live with such an overt animal product in their life. If that’s you, we hope there’s no hard feelings.

The art of creating soft, lasting hides has been passed down through generations. It’s a craft skill in an industry that slumped from an anti-fur sentiment. People concerned about animal welfare have legitimate concerns, but these sheep have already been eaten.

Barbed wire is not compatible with good sheepskin

The sheepskin industry can do little to improve sheep welfare, and buying sheepskin has zero effect on sheep lifespan. Almost all aspects of sheep husbandry are guided by the demands of the meat industry. All except one. The best sheepskin will come from sheep that have never torn their skin on barbed wire fences. We believe that sheep raised in an open landscape, like Dartmoor, produce the best fleece and live the best lives.

Our textile industries responded to the public demand to ditch fur. After Jeff Banks championed sheepskin on The Clothes Show on BBC 1 in the 80’s, Vivienne Westwood countered with a demand that fashion labels and consumers ditch fur. In a time of peak consumerism (and cheap oil) this was an obvious ethical choice. The trouble is we still wanted ‘fur’.

People cleverer than this writer created faux fur, which approximates that of animal origin but is made instead from plastic, derived from oil. Some of it is pretty good and feels authentic. Most doesn’t come close. None of it has the exothermic properties of wool. None of it degrades very quickly. All of it sheds microfibers in use, and particularly during washing and drying.

Sheepskin can be washed and dried much easier than you might think, using the same energy as a pair of jeans. During the wash, sheepskin sheds fewer hair fragments than polyester fabrics, and those that it does shed are harmless.

We urge you to again enjoy sheepskin, an otherwise waste product. Sheepskins do come from sheep that have been slaughtered, but we are currently, literally, throwing them away. Feel free to join our mailing list below, which comes with a 20% discount code “welcome20”, redeemable at the checkout.

All our products come in plain biodegradable packaging. Simply recycle, or compost at home.

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Why do we sell sheepskins?

Child sleeping on sheepskin

When our daughter was no bigger than a scan photo we bought our first sheepskin. We went from the hospital directly to get a pure cream medium length sheepskin for our unborn baby to sleep on.

The luxury of sheepskin has always made me feel safe, it’s always been reassuring to me. After a hard day you can rest your baby on a sheepskin and you’ll know it’ll feel loved. No matter how cruel the world can seem, you can always return home and rest your head in utter luxury.

So when our tiny little girl was born, and even tiny nappies seemed rough on her delicate skin, we laid her on the very thing that felt safest, our first sheepskin.

That skin served us well, it’s been through the wash countless times, every time it’s a little surprise to tumble dry the thing and find it like new… Well, nearly new (our little girl is now eighteen).

We now have many sheepskins in our lives, all of them special. But that first cream coloured sheepskin will always feel extra special. It’s served as baby bed, changing mat, seat cover for Nan, it was a pet bed for a while, but after a wash it always bounces back like new.

This is why we started Dartmoor Sheepskins, only with our company each sheepskin is unique – we don’t sell standard anything, each skin is personally selected, we only stock sheepskins that we would want to live with ourselves. Each time we sell a sheepskin, we do so knowing it can do as much for you as our first sheepskin has done for us. And when you come home from a hard day, I know that resting your head on one of our skins will give comfort and reassurance.