Farm to Fashion is a tedious path paved with hard work. Unlike conventional industrialized apparel production, the design arm of Franny’s farm, Gum Tree Farm Designs, controls the process from sheep to the sale of finished garments.
Retail across the United States and in the Northern Virginia region is experiencing a paradigm shift: a return to the requirement of quality and craftsmanship is on the rise. Over-processed and artificial are not what the people want. When it comes to shopping for food, the home, and for self care, consumers are returning to the comfort of knowing how and where things are sourced, grown, and made. Across the Northern Virginia region, residents and travelers enjoy the trend of Farm to Table dining, and now, thanks to the efforts of local farmers, high quality and locally sourced products are becoming available for apparel as well thanks to retailers like Gum Tree Farm.
Franny Kansteiner and her family own Gum Tree Farm in Middleburg, Virginia. Franny was excited to raise her children on a farm where they could grow their own vegetables, educating her kids in the reality of where food actually comes from and the work that it takes to cultivate it. Early on, along with their beloved horses, they introduced three sheep to their farm. Over the years, those few sheep have grown into a flock of 100 Merino sheep.
Beyond being a farmer and shepherd, Franny is an avid knitter, committed to her craft so much, that she even spins her own yarn. She was quick to recognize the treasure that she was shepherding on her very own farm. Merino sheep grow fleece coveted in the fashion world for its high quality and performance properties of softness, elasticity, breathability, static resistance, and ease of care. Merino wool is an active fiber that reacts to changes in body temperature, keeping the wearer warm in cold weather and cool in warmer temps.
Farm to Fashion is a tedious path paved with hard work. Unlike conventional industrialized apparel production, the design arm of Franny’s farm, Gum Tree Farm Designs, controls the process from sheep to the sale of finished garments. This is a game changer for the fashion industry. In the mainstream process, one company owns a single step of the process, but Franny has her hand in the whole shebang, from sheering, to garment design, to order fulfillment.
For Gum Tree Farm Designs, the process begins with the breeding and birth of Franny’s lambs, something most of us haven’t thought much about. Then, the lamb must grow for up to a year into a healthy sheep and begin producing fleece. As the number of sheep Franny cared for grew, so did the amount of sheered wool. One sheep produces about 10 pounds of wool each year that must be sheered, or shaved, annually for the basic care of the animal. Thus was born her mission to do something meaningful with her sheep’s wool. As Franny would say, “I backed into the apparel industry by accident.”
Once the fleece is sheared, it needs to be cleaned, eliminating a year’s worth of debris that has collected. After cleaning, the wool goes through a carding and combing process, removing knots and straightening the fibers in preparation for spinning. The nechanical twisting together of fleece fibers creates the yarn. Gum Tree Farm’s wool gets spun into yarn which is used to create hand knitted sweaters and baby accessories.
This article appears in its entirety in the Winter 2018 issue of NVSL Magazine. To continue reading, purchase at issuu.com and at Harris Teeter and Wegmans in Northern Virginia. Or, subscribe today at http://www.northernvirginiastyle.com/subscribe/
Article by Jennifer Chatman
Photos by Jessica Monte
Gum Tree Farm Showroom
10 South Liberty Street
Middleburg, Virginia 20117