In this series I’m aiming to explore the ecological effects of certain fabrics. Although natural fibers are generally considered to be more gentle on our skin and the Planet, in many cases there are plenty of negative effects that we should be aware of. As with all my posts, my intention is to raise awareness not to make anybody feel awful. However I do think that we need to be aware of what was sacrificed for our items in order to be able to put a real value on our clothes and to make better choices in the future.
The characteristics of wool:
Wool is the textile fiber obtained from sheep and other animals, including cashmere and mohair from goats, qiviut from muskoxen and angora from rabbits. Wool is widely used by both the fashion industry and home decor. It is very versatile and have great characteristics: it resists flames, holds air which causes the fabric to retain heat, hence it is great for insulation.
Wool crimps, and the finesse of it depends on the amount of crimp. Fine wool like merino may have up to 100 crimps per inch, while coarser wool like karakul could have as few as one or two.
Sheep produce about 8 pounds of wool at any given time. Shearing is the process by which the woolen fleece is cut off. Then the material is selected into different classes based on the quality.
Animal welfare issues with wool
However this versatile fabric has a dark side too. Animal welfare organisation have drawn attention to the cruelty used on sheep farms. PETA has shared a video in which sheep are repeatedly beaten and stepped on during the process of shearing and the harmful practise of mulesing merino sheep. Mulesing is a practise where parts of the skin of the animals are cut off. The organisation claims that cruelty is an essential part of wool production hence anybody who buys wool supports animal abuse. Some clothing companies like Patagonia tend to disagree with that statement and insist that it is possible to produce high quality wool by respecting animal rights. They developed a standard to ensure it called the Responsible Wool Standard. It is a voluntary global standard that addresses the welfare of sheep and the land they graze on.
Companies who have adapted the Responsible Wool Standard include:
H&M, Patagonia, M&S, Elieen Fisher, Tchibo and more.
How to make more eco-friendly choices if you love wool?
There is a vegan alternative to wool called Tencel . It is a fiber from botanic origin that is extracted from wood. The company that developed the material claims that the fibre production is ecofriendly due to their production system which is called “closed-loop”. It is very versatile and supposed to be more absorbent than cotton, softer than silk and cooler than linen. I myself haven’t had experience with this material but I would love to hear your thoughts if you own an items made of it.
SeaCell is an other vegan option made from dried and crushed seaweed. It has a porosus structure so it soaks up and releases moisture. Some resources state that it might even detox your body by containing vitamin E,C and anti-inflammatory properties.
Hemp is a completely biodegradable wool alternative that grows without pesticides. It is breathable and more anti-bacterial than wool.
There are also some synthetic fibers similar to wool but they are made of petroleum hence non-breathable. Their comfort level is similar to wearing a plastic bag…
If you cannot replace it with any other material, be mindful of the style and the exact item that you need and then check out if you could buy that item second-hand. After that take good care of your item.
Taking care of wool items
- Chunky knits are usually better to fold than hanged.
- Even if the label says it is machine washable prefer to hand-wash it in cold water. (Many machines have gentle cycle that is similar to hand washing so you don’t have to take it literary). The reason for that is wool+warm water creates felt and your item might come out of the washing machine rock hard and 3 size smaller.
- When damp lay flat to dry.
- To be honest wool doesn’t even need that much washing. In most cases it is enough to hang it out in the air and put a levander bag on it in the wardrobe for fresh scent. Levander even keeps the moths away as a bonus.