In early May, I traveled to the Serra da Estrela mountains, specifically the areas of Manteigas and Penhas Douradas, to visit the village and factory where Burel wool originates.
I’ve been daydreaming about this trip for three years since starting to develop my collection of leather and wool accessories. To finally embark on it was fulfilling, creatively inspiring, and rejuvenating. It gave me a renewed appreciation for my work and inspired new ideas and a path forward for Maragold Designs.
Being in the mountains of Portugal and discovering the whole story of Burel wool provided me with some clarity, armed me with more knowledge to share with you, and most importantly, reminded me of my greater purpose for Maragold. Quality and transparency are two things that I value in my business and so to see the factory firsthand was truly special and validating.
The history and heritage of the woman-owned factory that I source from, which has revived and breathed new life into a traditional craft and respects nature so deeply, has become interwoven into the Maragold story.
The factory itself originally employed 1,000 people and was just one of many wool mills in the area. It fell into decline in the 1960’s due to the rise of synthetic materials and cheaper overseas manufacturing. With it, the handcrafted heritage of Burel wool, dating back to the 11th century and worn by shepherds as protection from the harsh mountain elements, was becoming forgotten about and unused.
Today, 35 people work in the factory which was revived in 2010. Its employees are masters at their craft, passing down knowledge and skills to keep the handcrafted tradition of Burel wool alive. The wool factory uses the same 19th century machines that were there when it was rediscovered and references old patterns that were uncovered in the factory. New life has been given to this centuries old material by introducing new colors and working alongside designers to create new applications like bags and accessories, clothing and interiors.
This melding of tradition and modernity is precisely what excites me most in creating new pieces for Maragold. It inspires many areas of my business, including the making process itself, using both machine and hand stitched methods. To be even a tiny part of what keeps this Burel wool factory going means so much to me. Together, we are helping keep this heritage alive and spreading the story – contributing to the evolution and future of Burel wool, which was sadly almost forgotten.
I was blown away by the sheer beauty of the mountainous region where the factory is situated. Having learned about the factory’s respect for nature (like their zero-waste policy and Recycled Claim Standard certification), I experienced exactly where this commitment and appreciation for nature stems from. It’s hard not to feel a deep connection to the mountains - being there was truly something else.
The vistas are dramatic and breathtaking, the air is fresh, nature has been left undisturbed and lightly trodden, the people are warm and hospitable, the food is fresh and comforting, and tradition is alive. On multiple occasions driving along the narrow mountain roads, we came across shepherds grazing their herds of goats and sheep. This is what I came for - to experience and absorb the culture, traditions and environment - to deepen my understanding of just why Burel wool is so special and in turn, share that with you.