When the leaves change color and fall to the ground, and winter suddenly is around the corner most of us put on a wool sweater to keep us warm. The fabric is soft and cozy and something everyone loves to wear. But is wool a sustainable material?
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It is derived from animals, so that makes for the first set of ethical considerations. This guide is made so that you know exactly how to buy wool in a responsible and sustainable way! So let’s dive in!
Is wool a sustainable material?
Wool is probably one of the most used materials in the fashion industry. But is wool a sustainable material? Wool is a textile fiber that has been obtained from sheep and other animals and includes sub-categories such as cashmere, mohair, qiviut, and many other types of wool. Despite it being derived from animals there are still many reasons as to why it is considered a sustainable fabric:
Why is wool a sustainable material
- First of all, wool is biodegradable. According to the IUPAC, a biodegradable fabric is the breakdown of organic matter caused by a living organism such as bacteria or fungi. Wool is biodegradable because it can be buried in the ground and organisms will eventually decompose it. Therefore wool will not itself have a negative effect on the environment.
- Secondly, wool is a tough material meaning that if you take good care of it, it will last forever. Wool is known for its strength and toughness.
- It is skin-friendly – Wool fiber is covered in alkaline salts and fats before it leaves the sheep’s skin follicle. This makes it perfect as a coat that can protect the fiber against sun, rain, and wind. No pollution can penetrate it and every little dirt that might reach it will sit outside the fiber to protect the bearer of it.
- Wool is highly durable, with inherent flame-resistant properties, it also has some natural water repellency. Wool is, therefore, a high-performance textile supporting any tough lifestyle and adventure.
Are Clothes Made Out Of Wool Bad For The Environment and Animals?
Australia is responsible for about a quarter of all wool produced on earth. Unfortunately, they also have a lot of cruel-like working habits and methods making the production of wool in Australia one of the least eco-friendly places on earth.
According to PETA, Australien sheep most commonly raised as merinos are bred to have an unnaturally excessive amount of wool per animal.
This overload of wool causes the sheep to die from heat exhaustion during the summer months and their wool attracts flies which breeds and lay eggs in the fur, eventually leading to infections and more.
Fortunately, more and more companies recognize the importance of sustainable and cruelty-free wool and see a market in this. So if you want to be sure to buy eco-friendly wool, consider buying from other countries or look for eco-certificates to make sure that the wool has been produced responsibly.
Can You Recycle Wool?
Yes, it is possible to recycle wool. This can be done by unweaving the yarn used in a sweater and knitting a new sweater out of these used threads. Today, there are machines that can sort recycled wool into colors, types of threads, and combine it into new yarn, which can then be used to make a new eco-friendly wool sweater.
If you want, you can easily recycle your old wool sweater. If you are a firm knitter, you can unweave an old sweater and use the yarn to knit a new one. Some smaller brands even search for yarn leftovers or used yarn to make into new clothes, so that is also a possibility if you want to recycle your old wool sweater. The good thing about wool is that it can last for ages and still look good. So there is no reason not the recycle it.
The great thing about recycled wool is, that it has minimum impact on the earth, and zero impact on animals. So, if you want to know whether wool is a sustainable material, I would say recycled wool definitely is the most sustainable choice.
Is wool more sustainable than cotton?
If you ask “is wool a sustainable material?” I would probably answer “compared to what?”. Because, as with most other things in life, it is difficult to set the value or positive impact of something, if you don’t hold it up against something else.
First of all, it depends on which type of wool and cotton you are holding up against each other. Organic cotton is of course, better than regular cotton, as well as organic and ethically sourced wool is better than regular wool.
So let’s say we hold organic cotton up against organic, ethically sourced wool. Which one is the most sustainable material then?
It depends. If you are mostly concerned with animal welfare then cotton is the better choice. If you on the other hand are more concerned with the wellbeing of the earth, wool also has its benefits.
Cotton needs a lot of water in order to grow, which isn’t great for the environment. Cotton also needs a lot of lands, whereas sheep or goats can live almost anywhere. So each of the materials has its benefits and downsides depending on what you find most important.
How To Buy Eco-Friendly Wool
When you buy eco-friendly wool you should always take a look at its certifications. There are a number of certificates that can indicate whether or not the wool has been derived sustainably and if it is animal cruelty-free.
Such certificates include Responsible Wool Standard, ZQ Merino Standard the Soil Association Organic Standards, and the Global Organic Textile Standard.
You should also look for companies that have an eco-friendly agenda in general and that support fair working conditions. You can also look for second-hand wool clothing and help minimize production costs and animal harm.
Some Sustainable Brands To Consider
I have tried to find some of the eco-friendly brands which support eco-friendly wool so that you won’t have to do the hard work! Check them out and consider buying your next wool piece from one of them. This way you will have made the most responsible wool choice.
- KOMODO has a couple of different merino wool sweaters that are worth checking out!
- IceBreaker sells wool clothes made from wool derived in New Zealand. It is a sustainable brand that cares a lot about the environment as well as animal welfare.
- Duckworth is a USA-based company and is definitely worth checking out!
Learn more about the use of wool in fashion
I hope that you liked reading about sustainable wool and will remember this when you buy your next sweater (because I know you will buy wool again). If you want to learn about some amazing eco-friendly knitwear brands check out this guide.
Also, check out some of the other articles on sustainable clothing such as this one on sustainable clothing production in general.