Mildred the Surfing Sheep works her charm for Finisterre.

Meet Mildred. She's a sheep. And she surfs. All this to promote the environmentally friendly brand Finisterre. I decided to find out a bit more, so I spoke to Stuart, who's based down in Cornwall.

Written by Amelia Gregory

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Mildred the Surfing Sheep by Bex Glover.

Hi Stuart, could you give us a brief potted history of Finisterre. When did you start the brand and what kind of clothing do you make for whom?
Finisterre was started in Tom (the founder’s) bedroom with a laptop and dialup internet connection around seven years ago in Cornwall, when he realized that there were a lot of surfers who were getting waves in cold water locations who were not well equipped in terms of gear to keep them warm before and after their surfs. Tom started selling amazingly warm fleeces that were popular with guys on the water. The team grew to about five, and the range now includes merino base layers, super warm insulation jackets, gilets, and waterproof jackets. The business was started with surfers in mind, but the reach has expanded into other areas such as climbing, snowboarding, skiing, and cycling, and this is reflected in the ambassadors and product testers that we work with. We have top ten big wave surfers, round the world cyclists and guys climbing Everest working with us and refining our gear – it’s an exciting atmosphere. That’s about it. We generally hold the idea that Finisterre stands for three points of commitment – Product, People and Environment. Other than that, Finisterre is simply a vehicle for our passions, surfing and outdoor pursuits.

When did you start stocking your own sheep herd? And who looks after it?
There is a lady based in Devon, called Leslie, who managed to find the last remaining Bowmont sheep in the UK. Our design director, a fiber fanatic, met Leslie and they started talking about her small flock and sheep. Realizing the potential of the small herd, Tom kept in touch, and the relationship has gone from there as we have got more involved in the work on the farm in Devon. We visit the farm a lot – it’s a small drive away, to see the lambing and sheering. It’s a great farm tucked away in a stunning part of Devon and Leslie makes us feel so welcome. The animals have a great life – and are sheared with utter care by a chap called Raymond.

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The Finisterre Bowmont Herd by Bex Glover.

The Bowmont sheep is apparently on the edge of extinction – where does this sheep come from and what makes it’s wool so good for use in your clothing?
These sheep are a cross breed of Saxon Merino and Shetland. Starting in early 80s, it took the Macaulay Institute of Scotland 20 odd years to stabilise the breed. The ambition was to capture the brilliant fibre of the Saxon Merino with the hardy wild instincts of the Shetland. The finished Bowmont sheep is roughly 75% of the former and 25% the latter. It was intended to give the Scottish hill farmers another type of sheep with increased value coming from the very fine wool. Unfortunately there was not enough demand within the market place and the project was eventually given up. The Bowmont flocks that had been bred were sold on with flocks still existing in Scotland, Wales and Devon. Unfortunately many of the flocks that were sold have been either slaughtered or crossbred with Shetlands, thereby thus losing their pure Bowmont fibre quality. It turns out that Lesley - the North Devon fibre fanatic, has now collected all the remaining pure Bowmonts and is the only one to be breeding pure Bowmont. Currently we use Merino wool in many of our garments – our technical base layers (for running, cycling etc), and hoodys and jumpers. Merino wool is great and it’s one of the finest wools out there, however we just can’t source it in the U.K, we have to go abroad like everyone else to Australia and NZ – and that is something that we can work on with the Bowmonts for the future.

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A Bowmont Sheep by Bex Glover.

How many sheep do you have in your flock? Where do they live? Can you describe a bit more about the environment for both sheep and workers at Finisterre?
We started with around 30 Bowmonts found from the length and breadth of the UK. With Lesley’s work the flock is now up to around 65. Super exciting for us, and we get very nervous around lambing times. We are often crossing our fingers that everything will be ok! The sheep live in the beautiful green pastures of Devon – it might sound a cliché – but for me Devon just has the most stunning rolling fields of anywhere I have been. The sheep seem happy with that living on the small farm. Leslie also keeps some other rare breeds.

I was a bit disappointed to find out that Mildred the surfing sheep was the product of an advertising agency plot to promote your wool. Surely there was more to it than that? Why was this particular sheep chosen to shove in the waves?
The agency in London saw what we were doing with the Bowmont flock and our wool garments and were really fired up by the story and the sheep initiative. We spoke with them and were keen to shoot a short video. They got in touch with Dom and Nick – both talented directors, to feature one of our sheep surfing – they had the skills on video and sound – it was super fun and great to work with them and the rest of the team who came down. Mildred was chosen due to her character, being hand reared as a lamb she’s very friendly and always stoked to be involved.

Can you give us any inside info from the day that you shot the video?
It was a fairly sunny day in Cornwall – we met up with Dom and Nick, who helped us shoot the video on some handheld waterproof cameras. They have the knowhow and have worked on the likes of the Chemical Brothers videos before so we were stoked to have them down. We generally just let Mildred walk down the beach and get used to the surroundings – there was no one about so she was really relaxed and had a good bleat. All in all, it went really well. She didn’t have to do anything crazy that she didn’t wasn’t to, had some lunch then went back to the workshop and Mildred went back to the fields.

How does Mildred respond to getting wet? She almost looks as if she is smiling when she climbs out of the surf. Do you think she genuinely enjoys this?
She enjoyed it. We have about four or five dogs in the office at any one time and we’re always taking them for walks – they have a good life – and it was no different making the video with the sheep. Working with Mildred on the beach meant that we had to have special permission from local authorities, we also brought our local vet along to make sure everything was ok by him. Everyone was happy, we also brought the lady that hand reared Mildred – she was stoked to see Mildred become so famous! Mildred’s even on Facebook now – I’d take a guess that she is the world’s second famous sheep after Dolly.

Where did her name come from? Was that also the result of a meeting or was it more spontaneous? Do all the flock have names?
She was already called Mildred and from the moment we met her she was super friendly and inquisitive. A fair few of the flock have names – HMS Finisterre is the name of one of our young rams…

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Mildred by Sandra Dieckmann.

Have any of the workers at Finisterre stopped eating lamb since getting acquainted with Mildred?
Definitely been a talking point for some! Personally I’m not a vegetarian – but in my opinion there’s definitely some issues around the way some animals are treated for breeding and then transported all over the place.

What are your plans for the future? Will you ever consider doing a more fashion orientated range or collaboration with a designer that might interest my readers?
We’re still super small – there are usually only six of us here in the workshop now, so we’re often stretching to do a lot of things at once. Having said that we love pushing things forward, and we’re always thinking about future initiatives and new products and fabrics. We are working on expanding our range slowly – and continuing our work with our team of athletes and product testers. We’ve got some new t-shirts out this month – collaboration between us and Surfers Against Sewage across the road. Their a small grass roots charity who do some good stuff pressing for better protection of our coastlines. The tees will reflect their campaigns and we will be donating money back. For us it’s essential that as we grown we continue on without compromising the outstanding customer service and the trust we have built with our customers alongside the quality of our gear. In general we will stay within the outdoor market – it’s what we do best, and it’s where our expertise lies. We work with a range of designers, and athletes – collaborating with them on various garments – so it’s always an ongoing process and the doors our always open for a chat!

Thanks Amelia for the time – and if you or any of your readers want to know more email me or check out our website and blog.

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6 Responses to “Mildred the Surfing Sheep works her charm for Finisterre.”

  1. TheManWithOutAPet says:

    So you chuck a sheep into the sea to promote your business and you get a sparkling interview. I throw a Cat into a Paper shredder completely non-for-profit and i get a jail term. One rule for the elite and another for those with a mental imbalance. Hypocrites!

  2. Amelia says:

    Hi, person who is quite clearly a troll and not one of my regular readers, but who I am going to allow to slip through the moderation process. I very very very much hope that you’ve never chucked a cat into a paper shredder. I can’t imagine what kind of not-for-profit that would be. Not-for-profit-senseless-harming-of-animals? Who are these elite you talk of? There is a world of difference between what you propose is okay, and what Finisterre have done. They’ve got a sparky interview because their business is an ethical business that is doing good in the world, and I like to promote that kind of thing. Yes, I was disappointed to learn that an advertising agency came up with the idea of Mildred surfing, which is why I’ve asked about it, but Finisterre have been totally transparent and charming, unlike you. I utterly and irrevocably reserve the right to choose who I interview, it’s my website! Now bog off, and if any other trolls try to post on here you will be trashed straight away, so don’t even start…

  3. GP says:

    Pointless and irrelevent trolling aside I was really interested to read about the crossing of the Merino, as I am a professional needlefelter and I only used (dyed) merino wools, which are imported. (because of the unsuitability of the merino breed for our climate) It would be lovely to use a UK sourced wool, if this cross breed really does produce as fine wool as that.

  4. Amelia says:

    Hi Gretel, thanks for your sensible comment, which restored my faith in the blog-reading public in one fell swoop. I am very pleased to hear that the write up has been helpful for you, and I’d love to know whether you do manage to source some for yourself x

  5. Jean Bennett says:

    I know of a breeder of original Bowmont sheep who has a small flock and is going to give them up. Would there be anyone interested in them. I too am a breeder of Bowmonts and am breeding them pure. My original Bowmonts came from Sourhope, the farm that the MaCauley Institute had in the 1980s to produce these sheep.

  6. Amelia says:

    Hi Jean, you would need to contact Finisterre direct about this. Good luck!

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