Angora rabbits are lovable, loyal and docile pets with the potential to pay their own room and board by producing high value fiber. Unless you happen to be a hand spinner yourself, you’ll need a market for your wool. Fortunately for the home fiber rabbit keeper, Angora fiber, specifically domestically and ethically raised angora, is in high demand.
How to Sell Your Angora Fiber
Connecting with potential buyers can be a bit of a challenge for a small scale producer with only a few rabbits, or maybe just one particularly fluffy well loved pet. At the time of this writing, there are nearly 2,500 listings for angora fiber on Etsy.
How can you stand out and get buyers to take notice with so many producers? Know your product.
Buyers want to know that you’re a reputable seller producing a high quality product. By providing key information about your product, you can inspire confidence in your market and give yourself a step up. What characteristics are important to mention?
Breed of Angora Rabbit
There are 4 main breeds of Angora rabbits (English, French, Giant and Satin) and each has it’s own unique fiber characteristics.
English Angora tends to be fine and cottony, meaning that it’s extra soft but mats very easily. They have a lower proportion of guard “hairs”, which means more wool fiber per ounce for a softer finish.
French Angora is silky smooth, and has less matting tendency, but its texture also makes it slightly more difficult to spin. They have extra guard hairs, which tend to have the most intense pigment for a more striking natural colored wool. They have a separate wooly undercoat which creates the best halo effect in your finished yarn.
Satin Angora is one of the most sought after types. It has the most luster and sheen, and it’s the easiest to spin. These rabbits are rarer, largely because they only produce a small amount of wool each year (8oz compared to 12-16 for English and French, and 16-32 for Giants).
Giant Angoras produce the most wool per year, allowing you to sell in larger lots for “single source” garments that have a consistent look.
Carded or Raw Angora Fiber
Raw angora fiber tends to matt quickly in storage, and may need to be carded before it can be spun. If you’ve gone through the extra effort of carding your fiber into batts before selling (combing with a special set of wool brushes) fiber prices can increase dramatically. Carding is a time consuming process, and require expensive specialized equipment (Angora hand cards sell for around $100 a set), but it shows your potential buyers that your product is clean and tangle free, which is not always the case in bulk bagged angora.
For carding angora wool, you’re going to want very fine cards. Choose one labeled for use with very fine, short fibers, like cotton. Ideally, you’re shooting for 200 pins per inch. These carders with are what we’ve used.
Sheared or Plucked Fiber
Angora fiber can be either sheared or hand plucked to harvest. Hand “plucking” does not involve a blade, but rather encourages the natural shedding process that the rabbits undergo every 3 months. Hand plucked wool is more desirable because it does not have a blunt end where it has been cut, and retains it’s natural texture at each end making it much easier to spin. Plucking is a very time consuming process as compared to shearing.
Angora Fiber Staple Length
The staple length is the average length of the fibers. Longer fibers are easier to spin, and generally more useful for spinning. To be “premium quality” the angora fiber must be at least 6cm long, though it is often much longer when plucked from a fully grown in mature rabbit.
Angora Wool Grading
Offering several grades of Angora tells your buyers that you’ve given extra effort to sorting out the best product for those who want it, while still having less expensive options available to market your less desirable crop. Premium angora fiber is over 6cm, free of debris or tangles. This fiber is taken from the back and upper sides of the rabbit. Second quality wool is taken from the sides and neck of the animal, and the shorter staple length means it’s worth slightly less. It’s still clean and free of debris or matts. Low quality fur is matted, very short from the undersides and tail region and potentially soiled. It has very low sale value, but can still be sold in bulk for felting, pillow stuffing, or for giving to birds as nesting material.
Personalizing Your Angora’s Fiber
Going through the extra effort of hand spinning fiber requires dedication and passion. If you’re willing to invest the time and energy into creating a quality product, it’s likely you’d appreciate the ability to connect with it’s source. Always when possible identify your animal by name when selling the fiber. Wool from “Fluffy McFluffin’ Stuff” sounds a lot more personal and inviting than “White Angora Fiber” on a label. Also be sure to emphasize how your particular animal was raised. Do they get lots of fresh greens, access to a play yard, etc. Though it’s not necessarily evident in the wool, buyers want to know that the animal lived a good and happy life.
Choosing a Market
There are a number of ways to market your product to spinners. If you’re a larger producer, a farmers market or fiber festival might be the right way to get in front of potential buyers. If you’re just raising a few pet angoras however, setting up a table at an event is hardly worth the effort. In that case, you still have a number of options:
Online Craft Markets
While selling online at a retailer such as Etsy may be the simplest outlet to start with for a small producer, it also has the most competition. Buyers have thousands of options to sort through, and for simplicities sake they’re likely to re-buy from vendors they’ve been happy with in the past. Until you make a few sales and develop a customer base, it’s hard to be successful selling in such a flooded marketplace.
Wholesale to Local Yarn Shops
Look around your local area. With the recent surge in popularity of both knitting and hand spinning as more people try to resurrect lost skills from the past, these shops are becoming more popular across the country. Though I live in a small town in a rural area, there are 3 different yarn and fiber art shops within 20 minute drive of my home. Prepare ahead of time by packaging your product attractively and writing up a short note about your farm and product, highlighting what makes your angora special. Leave them with a sample, and if they’re willing, setup a time to follow up to discuss selling your fiber in their store.
While initially this may be that hardest to establish, selling by networking is likely to be the most profitable in the long run. Ask friends if they know anyone that’s a hand spinner. Post on local affinity boards, spinning groups, 4H sites, historical reenactment groups and town newsletters. If you can find your own customers through friends or a mutual connection, they’re more likely to both pay a good price for a local product, and because of the personal relationship, they’re likely to keep coming back so long as they’re satisfied with the quality.