Wool - Our Insight into the Wool Industry
Wool – Our Insight into the wool industry
Ateliers Verts Insight Series
We take a holistic look at wool as a fabric and those well-recognised organisations which operate in and around the wool industry.
Sheep in the ecosystem
Sheep are often raised in environments which are either too mountainous or wet to raise other livestock or to grow crops. Their free-range movements and excretions improve soil conditions. improved soil acts as a carbon sink which helps reduce co2 into the atmosphere. They do however emit methane like all ruminants, about 15% of what a cow emits each day. Making good use of land for agriculture whilst preserving and in many cases improving ecosystems is a win-win.
In volume terms sheep wool is the most common animal fibre used in the fashion and textile industry. It’s natural, breathable, resilient and has good insulation and thermos-regulating properties. (Wool photo courtesy of Shear Edge)
Wool is odour and wrinkle resistant which means that woollen clothing doesn’t need to be washed as often saving both water and energy,
The World’s biggest producers of wool
Australia is the leading producer of wool, in fact it produces about 25% of the world’s wool, followed by China, Russia, New Zealand, Argentina, South Africa, the UK and Uruguay. Australia has periods of dry heat which is particularly good for the production quality of merino wool.
In order to get wool, sheep have to be sheared.
It’s a process that isn’t enjoyed by them but as its usually done at a warm time of the year, the sheep get relief from the heat and with good-practise techniques, the shearers don’t injure or kill them.
Mulesing – a controversial practice
It’s important to note, that because Australia is the world’s largest supplier, there is a controversial disease intervention process there. It’s called Mulesing, whereby the farmers trim the skin around the damp rear of the sheep to prevent flies from laying their eggs in the folds of woolly skin. This is known as flystrike which may ultimately lead to the sheep dying a painful death. (Photo below shows sheep following the procedure)
This is undoubtedly a painful process for the sheep and can lead to infections.
This photo by Chantel Renae shows a merino sheep with its wool folds on its face. The folds produce a bigger surface area for wool to grow.
However sheep can be bred without these folds and chemical treatment can be done to protect the sheep from flystrike, although this is expensive and laborious. Non-mulesed or mulesing-free Australian wool is also produced and commands a premium. Many brands now exclusively source mulesing-free wool.
Processing The Wool
We spoke to a representative at G. Modiano who have a factory in the Czech Republic. It’s one of the worlds most modern wool processors in the world. They receive wool from many countries like Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. It's called greasy wool because when they receive the fleeces they haven't been washed or cleaned. When they are cleaned, they are washed in water with an eco-friendly detergent. They then comb and clean the wool to produce tops (semi-processed wool for yarn) and noils.
(The image shows a Wool Noil (L) and a Wool Top (R). ) Noils are the by-product of combing the wool and are used in yarns, felt and stuffing. The factory is Oeko-Tex certified and most of the water is recirculated with a small amount lost from the process when the wool is dried. By-products from the process such as lanolin is used as a lubricant and in the pharmaceutical industry. Other by-products can be used as fertiliser. It’s an impressive operation with minimal negative environmental impact and maximum resource extraction.
Uses of wool
Wool is a versatile fabric used in clothing, house insulation, duvets and bedding, carpets and soft furnishings, crafting and a wide variety of other combinations.
Everyone is entitled to their view, so we also explored what animal rights organisations thought of the wool industry:
People for The Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) say
“Around the globe, the wool industry exploits, abuses, and kills sheep, treating them as nothing more than wool-producing machines. These intelligent, gentle individuals are shown little in the way of respect and compassion…..Never buy wool. Before you buy clothing and other items, check the labels, and if they mention “wool”, look for an animal-free alternative.
We say- we wholeheartedly agree that any animal cruelty is unacceptable. We add that the practise of mulesing needs to be made illegal with financial Australian Government assistance being given to the farmers to enable and encourage them to stamp out this practice. We disagree with Peta in that they say “animal-free alternatives should be sought” – In our view the impact that the manufacturing and the disposal of alternatives makes on the planet is unacceptable and far more damaging than a naturally biodegradable material like wool.
Four Paws describe themselves as “the global animal welfare organisation for animals under direct human influence, which reveals suffering, rescues animals in need and protects them. Our vision is a world where humans treat animals with respect, empathy and understanding.”
They say on mulesing: “The solutions are available. More than 1,000 wool growers in Australia have successfully transitioned to flystrike resistant plain or smooth-bodied Merino sheep, proving that mulesing is no longer necessary. Major suppliers can provide certified and reliably traced mulesing-free wool. FOUR PAWS asks the wool industry and especially brands to take responsibility for the welfare of the sheep in their wool supply chains. Brands must set and communicate their timelines for a phase-out of mulesed wool. A clear signal from brands will encourage their supply chains to transition away from mulesing.”
We say: We agree! So look out for mulesing-free wool.
Responsible Wool Standard
The Textile Exchange acknowledge the issues surrounding animal welfare and the environmental impact of sheep farming that we have mentioned. They have devised The Responsible Wool Standard (RWS) which requires all sites- from wool farmers, to processors, to sellers in the final business to business transaction to be certified.
RWS farmers and ranchers must meet animal welfare, land management and social requirements. Their vision is a global fibre and materials production model that positively impacts our planet. At the heart of their strategy is the goal of helping the fashion and textile industry to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that come from fibre and raw materials production by 45% by 2030.
We say: look for Brands using wool and woollen products which are RWS certified.
The Woolmark Company
You may well recognise the iconic Woolmark logo. It’s been applied to more than 5 billion products since 1964. What does it stand for? In their own words:
- Connecting, inspiring and educating
- Guaranteeing wool fibre quality
- Collaborating with like-minded brands
- Championing the wool fibre's eco-credentials”
We say: It’s an organisation promoting and protecting the Australian wool industry. It’s a mark of authenticity as Australian wool is globally held in high regard and that needs protection, being that is also the world’s largest producer.
The Campaign for Wool
The Campaign for Wool is a multiple-industry initiative that was convened by its Patron, His Majesty King Charles III, the former Prince of Wales in January 2010. King Charles is renowned as a passionate environmentalist, so this initiative exists to promote his belief that wool is a good material.
“His Majesty believes the natural, renewable origin and highly technical structure of wool offers fashion and interiors many superior benefits. Choosing wool will also help care for our planet, through the reduction in man-made fibres going into landfill and the ocean. The Campaign is a global endeavour initiated by its Patron, in order to raise awareness and recognising the plight sheep farmers were facing around the world in the face of plummeting wool prices and convened experts from across the agricultural, wool textile and retail sectors to reverse the trend towards petro-chemical fibres. His Majesty is the global Patron of The Campaign for Wool and remains actively involved in spreading the message that wool is a precious natural, renewable and biodegradable resource that offers many technical and ecological benefits and choosing wool will help to safeguard the planet for future generations.”
We say: As a Final Footnote that we have to agree with King Charles that wool is a material which is readily available and has an incredible array of uses and with good farming practices has minimal negative impact on the environment with the potential to even improve the environments on which sheep are raised. We have to be mindful however that the livelihoods of the farmers need to be protected as does the welfare of the sheep. We respect the views of PETA and Four Paws, and they remind us of our duty of care towards animals and the environment. RWS provide a framework of “good practice”
(Header Image © Wikimedia Commons Geography Project Image owned by Rude Health, 19/9/12 showing South Wales Mountain Sheep in Llanfrothen)
©Ateliers Verts Ltd. 2022
Back to: Ateliers Verts® The Magazine