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All you need to know about the wool industry

For many years we have been talking about the protection of the planet and the protection of people and animals, but today more than ever, it is necessary to apply these concepts also to fashion, the second most polluting industry in the world. Transforming it into a more sustainable sector that considers and respects the three spheres of sustainability (environmental, social, and economic).

This is where the search for alternatives to chemical-rich artificial fibers has become essential to obtain sustainable garments and reduce the environmental impact on our planet.

In this context, talking about wool and its derivatives reaches decisive importance.

In the past, I have already mentioned various issues regarding sustainable or unsustainable materials and fabrics such as cotton. But unlike the latter, wool is produced using the fleece of animals such as sheep and goats. For generations, it has been used as a basic material for the production of clothes, bedding, and household items.

It is a singular material with many important properties that give it high quality. For example, one of its great advantages is that it absorbs moisture, drawing it into its fibers, and this can be very useful when looking for a garment that stays dry for a long time.

But the question that arises is: why are many people against the production of wool and do not believe in its sustainable stamp?

In Australia, where over 50% of the world's wool, used in products ranging from clothing to carpets, originates, lambs are forced to undergo a gruesome procedure called "mulesing", in which huge pieces of leather are cut from the buttocks of animals, often without painkillers. (I prefer not to go further and not add any other details).

But this happens not only with sheep farming: the wool industry also inflicts "collateral damage" to the wildlife it regards as a "parasite". Many landowners in Australia consider kangaroos to be "parasites," and although there are certain laws governing the killing of kangaroos, landowners can do whatever they want to kangaroos on their property without fear of repercussions. The preferred method of killing puppies whose mothers have been slaughtered is, according to the government, beheading or a "blow to destroy the brain".

The next point represents what we call "ecological wool".

The same wool that our grandmothers used to make sweaters and warm scarves have now become one of the trendiest and most popular eco-friendly materials on the market.

The main advantage of wool is that it is completely natural unless chemicals are added during processing (which often happens); moreover, sheep and goats, from whose hair this precious material is obtained, also contribute widely to the fight against climate change.

A case study conducted by the New Zealand government on two farms found fecal contamination in the water that far exceeded the safe consumption level for livestock.

For example, we can mention the organophosphorus baths for sheep: it’s a method that consists of bathing the sheep with toxic chemicals used to get rid of parasites. This method presents disposal problems and can damage the environment. A Scottish study of 795 facilities where sheep are treated found that 40 percent of the facilities presented a pollution risk. The study found evidence of an accident in 1995 in which a cup of organophosphorus compound filled with cypermethrin, a highly toxic synthetic substance, killed 1,200 fish along with the current where it was dumped into a river.

An essential point to add is that the presence of these animals’ pastures helps to stabilize the nutritional balance of the soil and to improve its ability to absorb water.

This increases the organic matter in the soil, making it an important carbon sink. Furthermore, there are specific rules that farmers must respect to supply textile factories with organic raw material: for example, the use of synthetic pesticides on pastures is prohibited, the feed and forage for sheep must be 100 organic; all required livestock management practices must be applied. These are all examples of a correct attitude both towards one's own pasture and towards textile factories.

As in any other situation, there are also disadvantages in the processing of wool, even when the wool is produced in full compliance with all eco-sustainable standards.

We are talking, for example, of the enormous consumption of water and energy that the processing of wool entails and the enormous environmental impact of virgin cashmere. Data from the Higg Materials Sustainability Index found that due to the greenhouse gas emissions produced in its production, wool has a more significant impact on climate change than most of its synthetic counterparts.

In recent years, however, ancient techniques for recycling fabrics have been rediscovered, thanks to which it is possible to safeguard environmental resources and create quality and eco-sustainable products. By applying these procedures to old wool garments or processing waste, recycled wool is obtained.

Recycled wool is in fact obtained thanks to the recycling process, an ancient process that is based on the collection and processing of used rags and clothing: at the end of the processing, quality fabric with low environmental impact is obtained, whose fibers have all the characteristics of the original fabrics. In fact, recycled wool is pure and soft like virgin wool and it is practically impossible to distinguish it.

At this point, it is questionable what are the advantages of wearing recycled wool.

Choosing recycled wool is a gesture of great environmental awareness. In fact, only 100 grams of CO2 are released into the atmosphere to produce one kg of wool, compared to 6500 kg for the production of 1 kg of new wool. In addition, water consumption is reduced by 90% and energy consumption by 77%. Moreover, no chemical dyes are used in the production cycle, thanks to the preliminary subdivision of the rags by color.

So I always like to encourage or invite my readers to upcycling, which clearly is very different from recycling. As Reiner Pilz, who invented the term “upcycling” in 1994, said, “ I call recycling down-cycling. What we need is up-cycling, thanks to which old products are given greater, and not less, the value ". Which is the reason why I wrote my book From Trash To Runway, a book that contains useful information for the daily user, who is not a tailor, in order to understand design and creative processes; inside there is no shortage of tips for designing and creating templates.

I believe that even though many people are starting to be more aware of their decisions when shopping for clothes or choosing their respective materials, we are still living in a linear system that we know must be circular.


Charles B
Charles B

Fantastic post! But I wish we could move on to practical application more quickly, as in: Why is it so difficult for me to find a method to recycle my used wool garments? Even as a resident of Washington, DC, a world capital, I have struggled to locate places that I can be sure will put my old wool into the upcycling process. Any ideas or recommendations? Many thanks.

Dan Pontarlier
Dan Pontarlier

What I would recommend is to do upcycling, for sure!! I wasn’t skilled at all and now I’m killing it!! Hehe JK. Also, I just wrote the book From Trash To Runway to help people transform the clothes they don’t use anymore. Hope that helps!! 🙏

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