By Ross McSwain,
(Colorado Springs, CO, 12/21/11) -- Two creative people, exhausted from working in the fast paced, stress-laden film industry, are having success in a completely different field of work where their mutual artistic skills are an important factor in creating textiles.
Jared and Jennifer Fleury spent nearly 20 years in the West Coast film and television industry, where they met. Both were involved in creative endeavors, but Jennifer's hobbies of knitting, spinning and sewing led them to a career change.
“Her interest in fiber and fiber animals is actually what led us to discover the cottage mill industry,” Jared said. "She was buying roving and tossing out teaser words like 'pin drafting'.”
They had been giving some thought about escaping big city life and moving to the country. The couple left the West Coast for picturesque Clarkesville, Ga. In 2005, they became the proud owners of a small textile mill and some farm acreage where they keep a small flock of Shetland and Corriedale-cross sheep, some Angora goats and Llamas.
The couple secured space in an old Clarkesville mill that used to produce a synthetic woven sheer curtain material. The mill closed down operations in 1980, and since that time space has been made available to a variety of businesses, including the Fleury Mill, a bowling alley, antique store, a toy shop, art supply store, a sporting goods outlet and several non-retail businesses.
“We have 1,700 square feet and we are bursting at the seams," Jared said. "There is probably room to expand if we so choose. Fiber, it turns out, is very bulky."
The Fleury team does all the mill work themselves with the assistance of one part-time employee. As the mill grows, Jared hopes to have two to three full-time employees once new machinery is in place. Financing for the mill is being provided by a loan from the National Livestock Producers Association (NLPA) Sheep & Goat Fund. Most of the equipment is new, coming from Stonehedge Fiber Milling in Michigan, another project helped by the loan program.
“We have a used industrial pin drafter and our spinning frame incorporates some reclaimed parts,” Jared noted. He said he learned about the NLPA Sheep & Goat Fund from Chuck McDermott of Stonehedge.
“I would absolutely recommend the Sheep & Goat Fund to others,” Jared said. “They (NLPA) provided us with a great loan and excellent terms.”
“As my interest grew in the fiber milling field, I put together a survey to send to fiber producers and fiber crafters to determine if there was, in fact, enough of a need to support a small scale mill in the southeastern United States,” Jared said. “At the time there were only two other mills in our area and both focused on Alpaca and Llama fiber. The market appeared to be solid.”
Jared observed that while the milling business has been in decline in recent years, small scale processing for producers with from five to 50 animals has been growing.
“We found more small scale fiber producers in our area than we ever thought existed," he said. "I had planned to service the five-state area, expecting primarily mail order business, but found that most of our customers are probably within 100 miles of us.”
According to the Fleurys, their core market is custom processing raw fiber from the small sheep farmer. They clean, pick, card and spin it into a finished product. The Fleury Mill works in small quantities - anywhere from a single fleece that a customer hand selects from a wool show to a full clip from 50 or more animals.
“We are committed to providing top quality processing in a timely manner accompanied by excellent customer service,” Jared said. “Working on this scale allows us to serve the niche markets of hand spinning, felting and hand knitting in a custom capacity. Customers with numerous fleeces can combine them for one yarn or have each individual sheep’s fleece processed separately. The latter is a popular option as the handcrafters who use their product have a desire to feel connected to the fiber farming process. Some of our customers do sell their yarn in yarn shops and others sell in their farm stores or at fiber festivals.”
Since starting their custom milling operation, the Fleurys have strived to acquaint themselves with prospective customers at fiber festivals from Oregon to Kentucky. They also participate in their “home show,” the Southeastern Animal Fiber Festival (SAFF) in Ashesville, N.C.
Although the SAFF show list continues to expand, the Fleurys are concentrating on their home area.
“Our own yarn production is far too small a quantity to sell wholesale. We do sell at shows to help cover our expenses and as a showcase of our processing abilities,” Jared said.
The Fleury Sheep and Wool Company's website gives full details of their services, pricing, products and other information. Their web address is http://www.fleurysheepandwool.com.
More information about the NLPA Sheep & Goat, including the application, an informative slideshow presentation, descriptions of funded projects, news and industry links, please visit www.SheepandGoatFund.com or contact Scharee Atchison at 800.237.7193, ext. 10 or via email at NLPA@NLPA.org.
The NLPA Sheep & Goat Fund is available to qualified applicants at a competitive interest rate. (Please call for current rates). Some basic information about the Fund includes:
- Loans are available in amounts up to $1 million per applicant.
- Sole proprietors are ineligible, but most other legal entities are eligible (partnerships, corporations, etc.)
- Rates and terms are determined during the approval process.
- The Fund is delivered through either direct loans or loan guarantees - grants are not available.
Applications can be submitted at any time without subject to deadlines. There is a one-time, nonrefundable fee of $100.
The National Livestock Producers Association, founded in 1921, is an organization of livestock marketing cooperatives and credit corporations representing more than 150,000 livestock producers nationwide.
A customer order of color separated Shetland wool prepared for carding.
Fleury's rams Brussell Sprout and Rhett Butler