Let’s talk about Wool’‘
Finding alternative fibres to make textiles and clothing more sustainable and ethical is a big challenge and yes there are many innovative developments happening at the moment like pineapple waste, plastic bottles and even spider silk, however, we are mid Wool Week 2017 (7th October – 22nd October), and it seemed appropriate to discuss this particular yarn that has been used for centuries, its ethics and sustainability, as natural as cotton but just as much steeped in controversy, especially when we talk about animal rights and the issues of cruelty.
‘The Campaign for Wool’ headed up by HRH Prince Charles, launches Wool Week every year.
''Consumers across the country will have the opportunity to truly immerse themselves in the wonderful world of wool with this year’s many inspiring retail and partner initiatives – all designed to educate, inspire and promote the benefits of wool. Key retailers and designers will support the Campaign through wool windows and in-store activities across the UK. …… ''
''Wool Week’s major event this year is ‘Wool Fusion’ a feature pop up installation on Baker Street in central London. Featuring fabulous fashion and functional clothing to furnishings, fabrics and flooring surrounded by stunning photography and film content…….''
''A flock of brightly coloured sheep will be grazing in Design Centre, Chelsea Harbour during Wool Week 2017 (7 – 15 October). The witty installation has been specially commissioned to showcase the latest wool fabrics and carpets …….’’
So let’s think about how it compares to a manmade fibre like Acrylic……
What is Acrylic?
• A plastic made from Polymer. First produced by DuPont in 1941 and trademarked under the name of ‘Orlon’.
• Pro’s: Strong and Warm, Lightweight, Wool like, Can mimic other fibres i.e. cotton, Washable, Colour fast, Resistant to Moths, Oils and Sunlight deteriation, Cheap and 100% Recyclable.
• Cons: During production it releases harmful toxins, Non-Biodegradable, Pills, Prone to Sags, Not Warm when wet, Flammable.
What is Wool?
• A natural fibre from animals in particular sheep, used by man for hundreds of years.
• Pro’s : Absorbs dye without the use of chemicals, Warm and Cool, Absorbs moisture but repels liquids, Resists pilling, Doesn’t Wrinkle or Sag, Naturally Elastic, Environmentally Friendly, Flame Resistant, 100% Recyclable.
• Cons: Can be Expensive, Some Wools can be irritable to the skin, Care needs taking when washing as it can shrink.
Product lifecycle and Qualities:
A typical Sweater or piece of knitwear can vary in its lifecycle, this is due mainly to 4 factors;
1 - The quality of the fibre 2 – The manufacturing process 3 – The aftercare / i.e. washing 4 – Changing fashion trends.
The limits on a lifecycle can be caused by shrinkage, pilling, felting, mis shaping making the garment unwearable, and a garment can also become unfashionable. A good quality fibre is required along with quality make up and shape of a garment, appropriate washing instructions to be followed and the purchase of a classic piece of knitwear, could typically last a good few years. To lengthen the knitwear’s lifecycle ethically, buy an investment piece, re- use, take good care of it and upcycle. Wool is a very versatile fibre, natural with many qualities: Wool has a natural spring ability, allowing itself to keep its shape with its natural elasticity. Although care should always been taken when washing Wool due to shrinkage, it can be worn without the need to wash frequently, particularly in the case of Merino Wool, which has its own natural cleaning properties built into the fibre. Wool has the benefit of being warm when the weather is cold but cool when the weather is hot. Wool is a great natural insulator. Undyed Wool has a natural colour that varies from different types of sheep but also absorbs dyes wellbeing sponge like, it absorbs moisture and locks it in but repels liquids making it water resistant too.. Also Wool is inflammable, it doesn’t melt only scorching which is why it is often used in children’s products like blankets. An ethical trait of Wool is its ability to be recycled, upcycled and reused.
The qualities of Wool far outweigh those of any synthetics.
We see how sustainable Wool is, this also tells us that purchasing a pure wool sweater over an Acrylic sweater is a luxury worth investing in. Fast fashion produces the cheaper acrylic sweaters and so the life span is short lived, filling up our landfills and charity shops, polluting the environment.
The biggest producers of Wool in the world are the UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand, with Australia world famous for their Merino Wool and the Wool Mark logo.
‘’ Centuries of selective breeding have produced more breeds of sheep in Britain than in any other country and many of them produce speciality Wool ….’’
(The British Wool Marketing Board).
Britain’s history is rich with Wool production and exporting but in modern times sadly British Wool is having to struggle to compete with countries that offer cheaper Wool, better quality and synthetics that mimic Wool. That is why The British Wool Marketing board have their campaign every year to try and revive it.
Wool is graded according to its quality, sheep breeds and fibre testing determine the grade of the fleece on sale. Wool goes through several stages of processing which includes Shearing, sorting, blending, dusting and scouring. The process of scouring, washing removes grease and other foreign bodies, this can decrease the weight by around 30%. Treatments are also actioned after scouring, like moth proofing and bleaching. After comes teasing and carding and then the fibre is spun into yarn.
The Ethical debate
So after much research, the following articles were found on the ethical debate surrounding Wool. Have a read and see what you think, do you think it would change your views? Are you a Vegan and already abstain from wool products ? Non Vegan and feel PETA have changed your mind?
This interesting article from EcoWatch, highlights PETA’s campaigns on the cruelty of sheep shearing and brings in the opinions of some ethical sheep farmers on the matter. https://www.ecowatch.com/alicia-silverstone-wool-peta-2186315702.html
A vegan’s point of view and their argument against wool, which also discusses PETA’s campaigns and the malpractice of sheep shearers around the world.
This is a good argument for wool, looking at both sides.
This is a great article on how Wool can be ethical and without animal cruelty. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2882895/As-footage-emerges-sheep-violently-mistreated-hidden-cruelty-winter-woolly.html
‘’Sheep can and should live without being shorn. Wrong!
Sheep need to be shorn about once a year or the wool will grow over their eyes so they can’t see, and grow over their anus so they can’t go to the toilet. I’ve seen sheep that were somehow left behind when a flock was moved and were later found in shocking condition because worms and maggots embedded themselves in the wool causing painful infections that slowly kill them. They can also not reproduce with large fleeces that inhibit movement.’’
So far mainly wool that is obtained from sheep has been discussed and by far the least cruel way of obtaining wool from animals compared to Angora and Cashmere. The various types of Wool predominately come from sheep, like Merino and Lamb’s Wool, Cashmere and Mohair from goats, Angora from rabbits, Camel, and Alpaca from Peruvian Alpacas. Cashmere, Angora and Merino are known as the luxury wools, and most garments made from these fibres are expensive to buy, in recent years though, there has been a worldwide ban on Angora, because of production costs 90% of Angora was produced in China, a country with no legislations on animal welfare, in 2013 PETA uncovered the reality of the cruelty in the Angora farms and consequently the big manufacturers and high street names stopped buying Angora products.(The Guardian 10 th Dec 2015).
‘’Some people, including PETA still believe it is unethical to farm angora rabbits at all, especially as some farms that shear the rabbits in an ethical way often keep thier rabbits inside in cages alone, so the fur doesn’t get dirty or matted from fighting.
But there are some brands out there who are leading the way for ethical Angora, and being totally transparent about their production. Ethical angora producers William and Elizabeth Sichel of Orkney Angora talk about their ethical production in China. In the beginning, they farmed their rabbits in Orkney in the UK, adhering to the DEFRA Code of Welfare for Farm Animals. They have now outsourced their spinning and are more than happy with the quality of life of the rabbits in their farm.’’
and as for Cashmere:
‘’Cashmere is made from the soft undercoat of cashmere goats, who are kept by the millions in China and Mongolia, which dominate the market for this so-called “luxury” material.
Goats have little fat on their bodies, and their coats protect them from the bitter climates in these countries. But in the cashmere industry, they’re shorn in midwinter, at a time when they need their coats the most, and as a result, the vulnerable animals can die of cold stress.
The same goes for Angora goats, who are used for mohair, and Pashmina goats, who are used for Pashmina wool. One report warns that cold weather or storms “cause excessive losses in Angora flocks … at shearing time.’’
China’s cruel treatment of the goats and the argument for cashmeres good qualities in this article is interesting and valid. However the poor environment in which the goats are kept, would definitely put me off buying Cashmere. The garment would need to have certificates and total transparency in order for one to even consider a purchase, despite the sustainable qualities of the wool.
Knowing how your clothing is made, where the fibre has come from, is the most important piece of information you need when buying any garment. So, in particular Wool, transparency is a must in the fashion industry. Knowing that your sheep shorn wool has come from an organic, ethical and responsible farmer could make all the difference, and eventually stamp out the bad practices.
The British Wool Marketing Board state:
‘’British Wool promote the highest standards of animal welfare as set out by the national agencies that enforce and legislate around this hugely important area of on-farm practices in the UK. We also provide country wide shearing skills training to our wool producers to educate on best industry standards’’
Wool producers, retailers and companies need to produce a transparent report on how and where their wool has come from. With all these legislations in place, how does the consumer know if their wool sweater has adhered to the legislations when produced, how can we know if there are regular checks on producers.
‘’The majority of farmers in the UK are now members of an assurance scheme. These schemes help to strengthen consumer confidence that livestock products have been produced to good standards of health, husbandry and welfare. The Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC) is an independent advisory body established by the Government in 1979. Its terms of reference are to keep under review the welfare of farm animals on agricultural land, at market, in transit and at the place of slaughter; and to advise the Government of any legislative or other changes that may be necessary. FAWC produces indepth reports on particular animal welfare issues.’’