The concept of LAM was founded ten years ago when Will and I met and fell in love. Will, a sheep farmer living in Kent, myself a knitwear designer living between Italy, Paris and London, at the time it seemed our worlds could not have been further removed. I was wrong, gradually as our lives became entwined it was apparent that fashion is farming.
Photo credits: Joss McKinley
Both passionate about our respective vocations but conscious of the damaging effect both our industries have on the environment, we wanted to do better. The intrinsic link of both our worlds and our love of the land was too strong to ignore, we decided to find our own farm we could call home, have some security and set down our roots and begin realising our dreams. After four years of searching, we purchased our small-scale mixed farm in Hucking, a hamlet in the North Kent Downs AONB, finally our dreams could be realised.
LAM, a combination of our surnames Lawrence and Miller slowly started to develop. Our goal was to build a local dual-purpose regenerative food and fashion system with provenance and accountability from field to finished product. We are making the link between farming and fashion, whereby we utilise the whole animal to produce and develop climate-beneficial meat and eggs as well as wool fibre for the use in fashion designs, the yarn and fibre dyed with flower pigments from our own dye garden.
Our mission is to regenerate the soil, increase biodiversity and substantially reduce the carbon footprint of raw materials and the manufacturing processes. Our ambition is to give back more than our practices take, transforming farming and fashion's relationship with nature, while collectively improving the future for our ecosystems, livestock and citizens. We are fortunate to have The Woodland Trust as neighbours and draw data from their extensive historical biodiversity reports. This information allowed us to understand which flora/fauna and wildlife needed to be protected and which were lacking and in need of re-establishment. This understanding of the existing ecosystem enabled us to develop our farming framework.
Our plan is to manage the land holistically without the use of any inorganic fertiliser or pesticides. Running a mixed livestock operation of cows, pigs, chickens and sheep, we aim to grow our own feed source for the livestock on the farm and strive to reduce brought in input. We practice both light conservational rotational grazing and mob grazing dependant on the land to mimic natural grazing systems. The animals work in rotation behind each other to best regenerate the land and avoid the use of artificial input. In order to work in harmony with the land we farm with native breeds, livestock that have evolved over hundreds of years to endure the typography of the land. Historically suited to the land, they require less inputs such as mineral supplements and wormers or need for medication. Reducing the need for chemical wormers also allows beneficial insects such as dung beetles to thrive. We selected Kent Romney sheep for their dual-purpose qualities, high yielding, semi lustrous strong fibre and good slow grown carcasses.
Our cattle are Pedigree Sussex, non-selective grazers, helping to create a mosaic of different plant heights and micro habitats. Native Breed Oxford Sandy and Black Pigs move through the woodland and also across cover crops providing the service of a natural herbicide and creating a weed free seed bed for the next crop. They are raised on a diet of home-grown cereals and whey from the local cheesemaker. We have a range of different laying hens following behind the livestock in custom built mobile houses, with mesh floors that allow their nitrogen rich droppings to fall to the ground acting as a natural fertiliser and building topsoil. Wild bird cover crops containing plants such buckwheat, sorghum, millet and quinoa and sunflowers are grown in the early summer months so come Autumn the chickens forage for their own food. We incorporate natural dye plants from our dye garden into the crop, such as Safflower to act as a natural aid for intensifying the colour of the yolks.
We formulated plans for rebuilding hedge lines and planting trees, the implementation of wildflower buffer strips, leys containing plants with long tap roots that provide drought resistant forage and increase carbon sequestration. Beehives were introduced to the farm, located by the wildflower meadow and natural dye garden as essential pollinators and producers of our Meadow Honey. On our arable ground, we grow forage and spring combinable crops. Our goal is to move as close as we can towards a closed food system for our livestock and reduce the needs for brought-in inputs such as soya. The livestock mob graze across the arable land over high protein break crops adding natural fertiliser and organic matter back into the soil whilst gaining a nutrient dense diet.
Farming regeneratively is a mindset, our system is far from perfect, we are continuously learning and improving through the help and support of fellow farmers on a similar journey. Ultimately you have to learn and listen to the land, every farm and every field is different, nature is in control and you have to adapt to the environment in order to make it more resilient, allow it to restore, renew and revitalise its own source of energy and materials.
Until we bought the farm Will had produced animals sold in the local weekly livestock market, a route for the majority of UK livestock farmers. The livestock market is a fundamental part of the agricultural system however the market can be volatile as you are at the whim of the weekly market price. Once the animals were sold in market Will lost visibility and control of the supply chain, we wanted to connect directly the end consumer, chef or butcher, to provide provenance and information into the production of the meat.
The quality of our produce is paramount, we tested and grew our system slowly for two years before selling both wholesale and retail. Our beef and lamb are produced on a pasture raised system. All our animals finish for meat naturally and slowly over nutrient and mineral dense pastures. Mineral content in meat has declined over the past 50 year as a result of the intensification of farming systems and monocultures, we have in turn implemented mineral rich herbal ley pastures providing vital minerals for livestock and also the health of the food chain. Plants such as sainfoin and birds-foot trefoil further help control parasites in animals. Deep rooting herbs also provide micro-nutrients essential for health particularly bone and blood formation.
When devising a route to market for our food produce our main objective was to ensure a localised supply chain, using small family run abattoirs, butchers and charcuterie producers. We are mindful with our production running a strict wholesale whole carcass system, promoting nose to tail usage to ensure that every part of the animal is used thus eliminating food waste. At times this can be challenging and restricting, however our network has grown organically building strong relationships with chefs, butchers, restaurants who stand tall with their ethics and principles, valuing our produce as much as we do and paying a fair price without a race to the bottom. We are fortunate to be part of a weekly food market with likeminded producers promoting produce with provenance and selling to customers that value our approach.
I grew up within a creative family and have an inbuilt passion for design, completing my BA at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design and my MA in Fashion Knitwear at the Royal College. I have been fortunate to work for incredible brands, collaborating with truly inspiring people. Over the past generations the pattern in how we both design and buy clothes has shifted dramatically, similar to that of farming. Both consumers and brands have lost a connection with their clothes. There needs to be clearer accountability and connection within the fashion industry to both nature that grows it and the people that create it.
I had been introduced and inspired by the work of Rebecca Burgess, the founder of Fibershed, a non-profit organization that develops regional fibre systems that build ecosystem and community health. I resonated strongly with the Fibershed model which promotes the production of a garment within a set regional area following a soil to soil model. The product is produced using 100% natural materials, without chemical or artificial inputs and at the end of its lifespan can decompose back into the land, thus encouraging production to be regenerative as opposed to destructive, a stark contrast to the majority of the fashion industry.
I was in a unique position within both fashion and farming to be able to implement a soil to soil model. I did not want to start my own label, I wanted to use my knowledge and resources to collaborate with existing designers and brands to produce small bespoke climate beneficial knitwear collections following the Fibreshed principles. Working from the ground up, having an element of control over the whole supply chain to produce a product with provenance, agroecological production, localised production, creativity and longevity. At first in comparison to my past design work the Fibreshed framework appeared extremely restrictive, however, with this restriction came creativity. The principles pushed me forward more with exciting innovative results. Knitwear design is extremely technical, all designs incorporate a technical stance and with that for me comes new creativity.
I liken it to that of a chef creating a dish, the quality of the ingredients is fundamental but so also is the technique and skill to which it is created. A knitted garment depends not only on the quality of the fibre but how you spin it, the tension/gauge you knit it, how you wash it, how tumble it, all resulting in the end aesthetic result which if made correctly will have longevity for years to come. However, unlike a chef, the majority of the time the creation of a garment cannot rely on one kitchen. Producing a knitted garment from fibre to finished product can involve over ten processes; farming, shearing, sorting, scouring, carding, spinning, twisting, dying, knitting, linking, washing, requiring specific skill sets and machinery to complete each stage. The support received from wool processing and knitting manufacturers has been overwhelming. Most are small family run operations transitioning through generations, all of which are championing the project.
As with our meat produce the quality of the wool is impacted by the welfare and diet of the animal, a nutrient dense diet in turn with good breeding produce good quality wool. We were fortunate to receive a micro grant from Fibershed for the implementation of a pilot natural dye garden on the farm. The garden was a great success. As the scope of the project naturally grows so too will the dye garden, and we would like to implement the dye plants within our arable rotation at field scale.
As for other future aspirations, I would like to extend LAM to work with together with local likeminded pasture raised farmers to create a route to market for their fibre. My long-term goal is to infiltrate the industry that I love with a new slower way of thinking and working, informing and inspiring brands to take action towards a regenerative textile way of thinking. From the outset the importance of LAM was to be a collaborative creative project with people who hold the same principles as ourselves.
For people who may not connect farming and creativity, I quote Wendell Berry – “ We have neglected the truth that a good farmer is a craftsman of the highest order, a kind artist”. Every skill involved with our processes is an art form in its own right, we have collaborated with local artisans, natural dyers, spinners, hand knitters, gardeners, farmers, shearers, abattoirs, vets, butchers, chefs and designers and photographers, to all of which we express our gratitude and hope to build on the foundations we have laid down.
We all touch the food and fashion system daily by what we wear and what we eat. We want LAM to help consumers understand, respect and want a better localised agroecological form of production for both food and fashion. At times it is far from the idealistic images that are portrayed, brutal and beautiful with life and death, but we do it for love. Love started LAM and it is this force that drives us forward to continue, the love for our land, love of our livestock, love of the produce we produce, love for the local community we work with and supply and ultimately our love for each other.