When it’s cold outside, wool provides warmth and comfort. But with complex supply chains, how can we know that the animals that provide us with wool are treated fairly and ethically?
A few years ago, ethical outdoor clothing company Patagonia discovered animal cruelty practices in what they had believed were ethical farms. The controversy shocked the company which stands firm on its ethical supply chain, and has been taking action to respond by launching its own wool sourcing standards. While it’s not an excuse, it’s a reminder of just how complex supply chains are.
Why do we wear wool?
Wool is a great renewable resource with plenty of benefits:
- Wool is biodegradable – unlike synthetic materials, wool will decompose. Once a woolen garment has been worn out, you can literally bury it in the ground and it will compost. Every year, Americans, alone, throw away 11,000,000 million tons of fabric and clothing. Traditionally, wool has been used for fertilizer in the district of west Yorkshire.
- Wool is a breathable and natural insulator
- Wool has a unique ability to react to changes in the body’s temperature, meaning it keeps you cool in summer and warm in winter.
- Wool is easy to care for, resistant to staining, and is flame retardant!
But like all mass-produced natural fabrics, there are ethical considerations to take into account before you rid your wardrobe of everything bar quality merino.
Impact on animals
In Australia for example, the wool industry has a high standard of animal welfare, with sheep that produce quality wool, high in lanolin. Lanolin is a grease produced by sheep to help maintain and protect its fleece. It is harvested for its own properties and is a great moisturizer.
Unfortunately, despite high industry standards for merino sheep, there is controversy over the practice of mulesing the sheep. Mulesing is done to reduce flystrike, which happens when blowfly eggs laid on the skin hatch, and the larvae feed on the sheep’s tissue.
It can cause infection and even death. It also decreases the quality of the wool produced. Mulesing involves cutting skin from the buttock region, and this is generally done without anesthetic. Flystrike can be avoided without mulesing with regular surveillance and increased use of insecticides. However, the sheer size of Australian farms and low labor levels mean that it is difficult to ensure that all sheep receive this level of care and attention.
Impact on the planet
Wool is a naturally produced, biodegradable and renewable fiber. It’s a great alternative to synthetic fabrics like nylon and polyester, which are forms of plastic. This means that like plastic, these fabrics often end up in landfill and take years to break down.
Synthetic fabrics are also energy-intensive to produce. Many common synthetic fabrics are by-products of petroleum. Manufacturing involves large amounts of crude oil, and releases emissions into the atmosphere that contribute to global warming and affect human health.
On the other hand, intensive sheep farming uses methods that harm the environment. Industrial size livestock grazing can also increase land clearing and degradation. There are holistic land management methods of grazing like animals being grazed in smaller paddocks for shorter periods of time, allowing the paddock to be in recovery for most of the time. Unfortunately, these practices are not widespread but they are gaining popularity and support.
When we purchase our wool, we only source from the most ethical farmers, whose practices we can cite from pasture to production. You can see a variety of the wool products we offer here. We hope you give our products a try and see how wonderful ethical wool feels.