FABRIC GUIDE: WOOL

Late last year I wrote a post on ecofriendly fabric (you can find it here, if you missed it), it looked at the most eco-friendly fabrics you can buy and some that aren’t so good for the environment. Being such a complex topic, I didn’t cover off every fabric or even scratch the surface on problems affecting the textile industry. I’ve had a few people over on Instagram ask me about other fabrics, namely wool and silk, so I thought I would start writing a blog series on fabric and the textile industry in general.

The first fabric I’m taking a look at in this post is wool. Sheep are thought to be one of the first animals domesticated by humans way back in 11 000BC and have been bred for meat, milk and wool ever since. For us Aussie’s, sheep farming is an iconic part of our culture and economy with Australia being one of the biggest players in the industry, making up around 25 per cent of wool sold in the world.

The Good

A personal favourite of mine, wool is jam packed with many exceptional properties that make it hugely attractive (and sustainable). You would be hard pressed to find a man made fabric that can match the quality of wool. 

  • It’s a very durable textile that lasts for years with resistance testing showing that is can bend back on itself more than 20 000 times before breaking versus cotton which breaks after 3 200 bends.
  • Wool possesses both fire resistance and naturally water-repelling abilities without the aid of chemicals that performance fabrics require.
  • It is highly renewable, biodegradable and recyclable. Studies have shown that wool will almost completely biodegrade in ideal conditions in six months, compared to polyester and nylon which can take up to 40 years to biodegrade
  • Natural insulator, breathable and keeps you at the right temperate. Which is why you will see it often used in thermal clothing, bedding and carpet.
  • An absorbent moisture wicking fibre with the ability to absorb 30% of its weight in water. Pulls excess moisture away from your skin and absorb more water than cotton.
  • Mildew and mould resistant. It is considered by the medical profession to be hypoallergenic.

The Bad

One of the biggest concerns from an animal welfare perspective is the practice of mulesing of Australian merino sheep. Without going into too much detail, merino sheep a susceptible to ‘flystrike’ where blowflies lay eggs in the folds on the tail and breach. Mulesing involves cutting away the excess skin in this area most often without any pain relief. The general consensus (backed up by research) is that this practice is animal cruelty and should be banned. Due to public pressure this practice is phasing out but it’s important to be aware of where the wool in your clothing is coming from to ensure it’s coming from a non-mulesing farms.

Other areas of concern are:

  • Sheep are grazers and while the grassland they are kept on is unsuitable for food crops they can and do exhaust the grasslands if the area is overpopulated.
  • Processing of the wool does use large amounts water and comes off only slightly better than cotton, a notoriously thirsty crop.
  • The detergents and bleach can be used to wash wool can contain toxic chemicals and care needs to be taken in the deposal of the wastewater.
  • Pesticides applied to sheep to manage pests (such as mites, lice and fleas) in conventional wool farming contain dangerous chemicals. These chemicals can easily run off into the surrounding area.

What to look for and where

The best way to avoid the negative side of conventionally grown wool is to seek out certified organic wool. That way you will be sure that the sheep have been raised without the use of harsh chemicals and cruel animal husbandry methods (such as mulesing) have not been employed. Look for the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) or the Australian Certified Organic Standard certifications. A good place start if you want to know more is the Responsible Wool Standard website, this is a organisation creating a new industry standard to protect the welfare of sheep and the eco system they are raised in.

Some companies doing the right thing when it comes to wool:

So if you’re looking to build a quality, long lasting wardrobe, wool garments (preferably organic or second hand!) should be at the top of your list.

Nic x