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Everything people use will affect the world in some way. Positive or negative, human action reshapes the environment in which we live. Being that you’re here, you are most likely looking for ways to upgrade your wardrobe while being earth-friendly and sustainable. Choosing certain fabrics, like wool, is one way to do that.
Being that wool is all-natural, it’s already a step above synthetic materials. But why use sustainable wool at all? What is the benefit?
Time to find out
What is Wool?
Before the chat about whether wool is sustainable, it’s best to talk about the origins of wool. Wool is a protein, like hair, that grows primarily from goats and sheep. Wool is also the textile that is crafted from the animal’s fleece then spun and woven into fabric. Since fleece will regrow within a period of time after it is sheared, wool is considered renewable.
Wool is also a renewable atmospheric carbon. In other words, when you dispose of something made from wool, it acts like a fertilizer for the soil and slowly returns vitamins, nutrients, and carbon to the earth.
How Wool is Made
Wool has multiple sources. While sheep are the common source, any animal that makes fleece—rabbits, yaks, llamas, goats, camels, and so on—can be used to make wool.
Sheep get shorn once a year in the spring. Proper shearing allows for the fleece to come off in a single piece, leaving the animal unharmed. Afterwards, the fleece is scoured—a cleaning procedure that removes leaves, dirt, and lanolin, a natural oil.
Clean wool is sent for spinning, which is done either by worsting or carding. Worsting involves straightening and combing the wool to create a tightly spun thread that is durable but not as insulating as carded wool. Conversely, carding wool means to pull the fibers apart, creating air pockets that make a wool product much warmer and fluffier.
Is Wool Sustainable?
Wool has long been accepted as an earth-friendly material, since it is 100% natural, recyclable, renewable, and biodegradable. There are no microplastics in wool. You also don’t need fertilizer or pesticides while fleece grows. As a textile, wool is also easy to care for, has a long lifespan, is easy to repair, and is thermo-regulating.
All of that points to an eco-friendly and sustainable fiber.
But how sustainable is wool? Consider this: Wool consumes far less energy to produce than most materials, making it second only to hemp, which is one of the most sustainable textile fibers available.
The Life Cycle of Wool
If you follow the fashion industry, you might have heard of Life Cycle Assessments (LCA). Consider the LCA a rubric for how much a material impacts the environment. One thing to keep in mind is that the LCA is very limited and also somewhat biased (as synthetic fibers are cast in a positive light) towards nonrenewable sources. The LCA also ignores the full supply chain involved with producing a garment.
That said, within the life cycle assessment of wool, it was found that the durability of the material is one of its greatest strengths. Wool can be washed much less frequently than other materials, which saves on resources and limits detergent use. Since you can get multiple wears in before needing a wash, wool also doesn’t fall apart as quickly as fast fashion garments.
Plus, surveys have found that people will donate their wool items rather than throwing them away. In most cases, this results in the wool garment either being used by someone else or recycled to create new yarn. In fact, some brands, like prAna, are recycled wool sweaters to make products that require zero redyeing.
Wool: Environmental Friend or Nightmare?
So you know that wool is sustainable and has a long lifespan. There are tons of benefits to purchasing and wearing wool, too. Are there any downsides to the wool industry? Turns out, there are some things you should consider. Although wool is nowhere near the level of disruptive production that is found in synthetic fibers and cotton, there are some negatives to wool production.
First off, the carbon footprint. The main reason wool has a large carbon footprint would be from the sheep. Nearly 50% of the carbon released is from the animals, but that pales in comparison to the carbon emissions from other fabrics during production, such as conventionally-grown cotton. Sheep also produce methane, a greenhouse gas.
Although sheep can be raised in rough terrain, other fleece-producing animals, like cashmere goats, are being bred at faster rates to keep up with demand. The large farms of sheep and goats may lead to overgrazing, thereby devastating the landscape and displacing the local wildlife.
There are also wool blends and dyes to think about. Commercially dyed wool undergoes an intense process that involves harmful chemicals and finishes. Say hello to toxic waste.
Finding Sustainable Wool
Does the fact that wool has some negative environmental impacts make it unworthy of your wardrobe? No! It’s a legitimate concern to worry about the land, the animals, and how the wool is processed. But with all things considered, wool has a positive future. More fashion brands are sourcing their wool from ethical and eco-friendly sources. You can also look for wool that has a Woolmark certification logo.
Sustainable Wool, Is It Worth It?
Why use sustainable wool? If you are looking for durable, warm, and eco-friendly, wool is a great choice. Wool is one of the most recyclable textile fabrics around, and it can be used for many years without showing any wear and tear. Just make sure you are taking great care of your wool products!