Why does wool matter? Last weekend I was at Fibre Quest, a show at Fern Hill Farm on the Mendips. The aim of the show is to reaffirm the connection between farm and fibre and” to increase awareness of sustainable yarns and fibres, use of natural dyes and the place of wool textiles in the fashion industry as a viable alternative to fast fashion, textile waste and polluting processes. ” (Fibre Quest 2023) . The show was a vibrant and interesting 2 days of talks, workshops and demonstrations and exhibitors who demonstrate sustainable business models and products. It was an eye-opening event for me, even though I think I’m quite aware….
Did you know that on average, 3 out of 5 clothing items are discarded to landfill within a year and are almost all un-recyclable synthetic fibres? (sustainability, British Wool) We are all aware of the impact of fast fashion on the environment in terms of microplastics, marine and water pollution and CO2 emissions, but what can we do about it? Its a complex, multi-layered issue.
So why does wool matter?
At it’s most simple, wool is a natural, sustainable fibre that grows and can be “harvested” every year. Did you know that grazing sheep take up atmospheric carbon and it gets locked in their fleece, making them eco-warriors! Each sheep fleece can weigh between 1 – 3 Kg, and this can be used in a variety of ways, not just for yarn to knit or crochet with.
For example, as fire resistant insulation in houses, and as insulation in winter coats and outdoor wear. As an insulator in houses, its installation is simple and user-friendly because there are no harmful fibres. Wool is also being incorporated into bricks to make them stronger too!
Wool is naturally fire resistant to up to 600 degrees and this makes it an ideal for Fire Fighter clothing. It doesn’t shrink, melt or stick to the skin and doesn’t give off toxic fumes when it gets hot.
It has been used for centuries in our clothing. Whether woven or felted, its warm in winter and cool and “breathable” in the summer and is also moisture wicking which makes it odour resistant.
Furniture may be stuffed with wool, or covered with wool or tweed fabrics and used for decorative cushions and soft furnishings. Wool is even used in duvets and pillows. Research done by the University of Leeds shows that wool bedding can help you get a better night’s sleep. (compared to polyester and feather.) This is because of wool’s temperature regulating and moisture control properties.
Wool is a low waste product. Most of the fleece can be used and processed in ways which don’t involve a lot of fossil fuel energy sources. The dags, the dirty bits of fleece around the tail end, can be chopped and used as compost. Even the lanolin which coats the wool fibres can be used as auto lubrication as well as in cosmetics and shampoos.
Why does wool matter to the environment?
We are becoming more and more aware of the problem of micro-plastics in the environment, especially in the seas. Microplastics can be shed from synthetic clothes during processing and manufacture, as well as when they are laundered. These tiny plastics are now getting into the food chain and ultimately into us. Research by Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in the Netherlands showed that up to 80% of us have microplastics in our bodies. That’s alarming! Synthetic fabrics for clothing, as well as plastics in almost all the products we use daily are made from petrochemicals. All at a time when we need to reducing our dependence on fossil fuels.
Wool is a 100% natural product (if it is undyed and not mixed with anything else). When it can no longer be reused or recycled it can be composted to nourish the earth with nitrogen. Sheep have a low or zero environmental impact and wool is a sustainable and replenishing “crop”.
Why does it matter to you and I?
Is it better to buy clothing which lasts, and can be repaired, cared for and finally recycled? These items may cost more, and we may therefore have less. A wool jumper which costs £70 and lasts for 15 years is much better value than a synthetic jumper which costs £20 and last for 2 years. In the long term, it costs less than replacing with a cheaper synthetic one every 2 years. Its also better for the environment for the reasons above and more…. I’m not suggesting you start knitting all your own jumpers (though of course you’re at the right website if you want to!) but next time you buy an item of clothing, consider if there is a wool alternative.
Want to know more about how I choose wool for you? Read this blog too….