Handmade sheepskin slippers prove a nice fit

In 2018 Rachel Caswell bought sewing equipment and set up a studio making sheepskin slippers out...
In 2018 Rachel Caswell bought sewing equipment and set up a studio making sheepskin slippers out of her Karitane home. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
After 15 years working on private yachts and living the "cruising" life, Rachel Caswell yearned for the quieter life back in New Zealand — cue handmade sheepskin slippers.

Mrs Caswell has always been a keen handcrafter and enjoys working with natural products. In 2018 she and her husband moved home to the seaside town of Karitane in Otago and the opportunity presented itself to buy sewing equipment and she decided to make a go of it.

"Sheepskin is a genuine slow-fashion natural material. I knew it was a product I could genuinely believe in and feel proud to sell. I truly believe that wearing a handmade item from a natural product is investing in a treasure you can use every day," she said.

Mrs Caswell spent several months learning the craft of making handmade slippers from Possum Pam, a wholesale manufacturer in Canterbury, "and then it was a case of trial and error, learning what worked and what didn’t. I have gone with minimalist designs which have stood the test of time".

Procuring the sheepskins is a continual bugbear for Mrs Caswell as she isn’t making a big enough volume of slippers to secure continuity of supply from large suppliers.

"I get a small amount from Bowron Sheepskins and I also have another supplier in Auckland. But continuity is always a bit of an issue when it comes to colour. The tanneries at New Zealand meat processors have closed down, so most of our sheepskins in New Zealand now get sent to China to be tanned and then sent back. I would love to be able to find a way to collaborate with local companies and keep it all in the country."

After a positive 2019, Mrs Caswell had intentions to "really crank" into the stallholder markets around Otago this year, but as it had done for many, Covid-19 put a stop to the plans on her calendar this year.

"The markets are starting to come back for this season. Obviously, the cruise ship market isn’t there this time, but I am always surprised how I go at little local market days. People really have embraced the support local ethos."

While she enjoys working "in" her business, it’s working "on" her business she has to make a conscious effort on, Mrs Caswell says. An e-commerce website has been set up so people can buy online.

"Technology isn’t my area of expertise, so I have certainly gone outside of my comfort zone with this new challenge.

"Half a day can go just like that when it comes to computers," she said, laughing.

Alice Scott

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