Ed Ebbern is bringing the luxurious fibre of the Black Alpaca to UK suits through Wyvern Tailoring
Article by Rupert Watkins
It’s not every day you end up passing courtesies with a pair of pregnant female alpacas. However, when chatting with the urbane Ed Ebbern about his foray into both the breeding of these remarkable animals and his latest move into tailoring, saying “How d’you do” to Britannia and Athena is par for the course. Ed’s company, Wyvern Tailoring, is attempting to bring its remarkable UK sourced, designed, and milled alpaca cloth to a new audience.
The alpaca is a fairly recent arrival to these shores. Peru and Australia are the main producers of alpaca fibre – some farms in Australia having up to 35,000 animals. The first examples in this country were shipped here from Peru and, in addition to their fleece, have become sought after by sheep farmers who capitalise on their bold nature by placing them amongst grazing flocks, where they act as guards and keep predators away. Ed though, is very firmly looking to use the animal’s soft fibre to offer an alternative to cashmere – or at an even higher end of the market vicuna.
Having travelled and worked abroad in Japan and Dubai, Ed had spent his early career in City headhunting. Realising that this was not the way he wished to spend his entire working life, Ed began to ponder an alternative. Though not from a farming background, he had always enjoyed the outdoors. Coming across alpacas, he was struck by the high yield and low husbandry ratio of the animal and so, intrigued, began to look at a business plan.
In 2012, Ed purchased his first alpacas and his flock now stands at 21. He has concentrated on black alpacas. The animal is slow growing and is sheared once a year in May. Females are able to give birth once a year. Each animal will produce between two and three and a half kilos of fibre from each shearing; Ed aspires to eventually grow his flock to around 60 alpacas – producing just under 200 kilos of raw fibre each year. The flock Ed has is herded on a friend’s larger alpaca farm for day in day out care. There are currently two studs – like many pure and blood-line certified breeding males, these are well sought after. Indeed, the finest Australian examples go for anything up to £40,000. Ed’s are more modest; he has one for sale at just under £7,000.
There are 22 shades of alpaca – for clothing purposes these range from black through to fawn, though many of the differences are only noticeable to the expert close up. Ed aims for no colour contamination in his sheared fibres. The actual fibre is rather tricky to weave; it is not as curly as wool and lacks the microscopic hooks that binds sheep’s wool together. The micron count is under 23 and every fleece is rigorously tested to ensure this is uniformly the case. While this means a very soft and smooth product it also means the initial tensile strength is weak until it is carefully woven. On the plus side, as a dry fibre, alpaca is very low allergy and hypoallergenic.
As his flock of alpacas has slowly grown, Ed has begun to explore explore the tailoring possibilities. He has located a mill in Devon experienced in working with alpaca wool, which spins the small batches of fibre he currently produces, and has sourced a small weavers in Scotland to make the cloth. To design the alpaca tweed he is collaborating with Edinburgh based designer Araminta Campbell and the tailoring workshop itself is in the north of England.
Given the small quantity of alpacas and resulting fleece, Ed currently has an initial two bolts of 52 metres worth, “once this has been used, that’s it until the next shearing.” He aspires to introduce one new bolt per year and is looking at introducing two overcoatings in 2017 as well. This small scale, “means a very intimate provenance. We work with people we know and trust but we can also uniquely track the fibre from the individual animal through to the final customer.”
Wyvern Tailoring is fully launching in April 2017. Ed will not be supplying any bolts of cloth elsewhere. There are currently no plans to have dedicated bricks and mortar at this early stage and he will be travelling to see all customers – Ed has a number of clubs in both St James’s London and Dorset he can operate out of. Following chats with a old colleagues from the headhunting world, he is considering putting out feelers to the Orthodox Jewish market on both sides of the Atlantic as alpaca is fully kosher. The current plan is to offer a made to measure service; given the high expense of alpaca, a suit is looking to be in the vicinity of £3,200 which will certainly place Wyvern Tailoring among the most expensive if unique made to measure options on the market.
Turning to the font of this remarkable fabric, Ed takes the best of his small flock to various country shows where there is a small but competitive showing circuit. He targets four to five main shows per year taking a team of six animals. “Judges look especially for lustre in the animal’s coats” Ed remarks, emphasising the importance of the softness, depth and shine of the alpaca fleece. His day job – Ed is a Reserve Army officer on a full time reserve contract at the Royal Armoured Corps headquarters in Dorset – gives him a certain leeway to pursue both the showing and Wyvern Tailoring side of his growing herd of alpacas. In an age where the provenance and background of what we buy is held up to ever more scrutiny, Wyvern Tailoring certainly offers an unusual, slightly quirky but rigorously vetted way to know the exact provenance of one’s suit.
Interviewed and photographed with kind permission at 10 Castle Street