It is with much sadness that we heard recently of the passing of Sue Blacker, the previous owner and managing director of The Natural Fibre Company and Blacker Yarns. Sue died on 5th April 2021, a few days before her 70th birthday. Our thoughts, as work colleagues and friends, are with Sue’s husband, Douglas and their family at this difficult time.
Born in Cornwall, Sue graduated from University of Cambridge in 1971 with a Master of Arts (MA) and returned to her studies in 1998-99 to attain a Master of Business Studies (MBA).
She was the first female graduate recruited by the merchant bank Rothschilds and one of the first women to become a member of the London Stock Exchange. Although she moved on to broaden her experience, she returned to the City as an investment analyst specialising in electronics stocks. When the City was deregulated in 1986, she was the leading electronics analyst for the US bank Shearson Lehmann. After a stint with the French bank Paribas, she returned to her native Cornwall and worked on economic development specialising in agriculture, fishing and tourism before running two environmental charities.
Sue was also a farmer, managing a breeding flock of pedigree Gotland sheep, which she kept on land near Lostwithiel, Cornwall. She served on the local health authority and ambulance trusts later becoming a trustee of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust and chair of the British Gotland Sheep Society.
In 2004 an opportunity arose for Sue to take ownership of The Natural Fibre Company, then based in Lampeter in Mid Wales. Following Myra Mortlock, the previous owner’s retirement, and the successful approval of a business plan for EU Objective 1 Funding, the business changed hands and Blacker Sheep Limited trading as The Natural Fibre Company was formed in the spring of 2005, relocating to its current site in Launceston, Cornwall.
From its original small-scale operation, spinning wool largely for smallholders, produced in the traditional way, Sue introduced a range of innovative ideas and specialist services for fibre producers and farmers including scouring; blending; mohair and alpaca fleece processing; worsted and semi worsted spinning. She also installed a dye plant and began operating an organic processing run after attaining a licence from the Soil Association.
In 2008 an online shop trading as Blacker Yarn was created selling limited edition, rare and breed specific knitting yarns and the Blacker Swan partnership was formed bringing Falkland Islands wool to the UK.
Following the transfer of ownership of the business in 2019 to Colin Spencer Halsey and Graham Higgins, Sue remained involved as a business support consultant providing her valuable, industry specific expertise during the transition period. She later became director of Par Track Limited, a Charitable Community Benefit Society, but in March moved with her husband, Douglas to Norfolk.
Today, as a direct result of Sue’s hard work, dedication and passion for sustainability and long-life products and services for the farming and textile industry, The Natural Fibre Company and Blacker Yarns have gained a reputation as a specialist, vertically integrated woollen mill, the only one of its kind in the UK, attracting customers from all over the world.
As the appetite to shop locally and support local businesses grows, The Natural Fibre Company and Blacker Yarns, based in Cornwall, are taking part in the first-ever Made in UK Day on Tuesday 9 March 2021.
The Made in UK Day campaign has been created to celebrate 10 years since ex-retail buyer Kate Hills started the Make it British blog to champion all the wonderful products that are made in the UK. Since its launch 10 years ago, the Make it British site has been visited by more than 6.5 million people looking to buy UK-made products and search for UK manufacturers. This year alone has seen a 68% increase in enquiries since the UK left the EU’s single market and customs union.
Colin Spencer Halsey, Operations Director at The Natural Fibre Company said: “As a Cornwall based manufacturer of high quality, breed-specific yarns, made exclusively from British sheep, we are delighted to support the first Made in UK Day campaign which promotes UK makers and craftmanship”.
Kate Hills, the founder of Make it British, said “It has never been more important to buy products that are made in the UK and support local manufacturing. By pledging to buy products that are made in the UK you are lowering your carbon footprint, saving essential skills, helping local economies and creating job opportunities.
We want everyone to get behind Made in UK Day to celebrate the wonderful makers that we have in the UK.”
UK manufacturing is currently worth £192 billion to the UK economy and employs 2.7 million people. More than 65 million people live in the UK and if everyone bought just one item made in the UK worth £20 on Made in UK Day it would be worth £1.3billion.
Consumers can get involved in the campaign by pledging to buy something that is made in the UK on 9 March and asking their favourite brands and retailers what, if anything, that they sell is made in the UK. They are also being encouraged to share pictures of products that they have bought, or own, that are made in the UK on social media using the hashtag #madeinukday
To find out more about the campaign visit www.madeinukday.co.uk
The new owners of The Natural Fibre Company and Blacker Yarns are celebrating a successful first year, despite the challenges of trading during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s been business as usual for this Cornish based company which was bought by Westcountry based businessmen, Colin Spencer Halsey and Graham Higgins in December 2019. The partners bring more than 40 years of business expertise with them and hold an impressive track record of strategic mentoring and turning around a range of businesses with their management, manufacturing and accounting knowhow.
Following the smooth transition of ownership in 2019, The Natural Fibre Company and sister company, Blacker Yarns continue to go from strength to strength - providing job security for the 20 strong, highly skilled, local workforce.
Operations Director, Colin has attained many prestigious industry accolades and awards during his career including business listings in The Manufacturer’s Top 100 businesses and South West Fast Growth 75. Colin says:
‘The potential to support and make an impact on a traditional British manufacturing company really appealed to me. There is no doubt that COVID-19 has brought unforeseen challenges this year, but we have a clear strategy going forward to strengthen our position by implementing new structures, as well as investing in our amazing people, systems and processes. We also aim to automate some of our manual processes, further develop our research and development work in textiles with partners and overall to continue to increase productivity. We’ll also be looking to expand our workforce further and to place traction behind the business’.
As a leading natural fibre specialist providing support to local farmers and yarn producers, The Natural Fibre Company maintains its reputation for adding value to fleece by blending high quality regional and rare wool, mohair and alpaca with natural fibres such as silk and linen. Whilst the sister company, Blacker Yarns produces a range of contemporary, high-quality, breed-specific yarns in a large variety of colour palettes, made exclusively from British sheep and demonstrating provenance to the ethical consumer.
Commercial Director, Graham adds:
‘We believe in the social values of our organic processing accreditation and the importance of the British manufacturing industry and our role supporting farming, the countryside and the environment. It’s a very exciting time’.