Getting into shopping consciously isn’t the easiest game in town, we get it, you like things. You like to buy things, doing a shit ton of research when you spot that cute top in the store, well, you just don’t have the data plan for that. But what if the first step to shopping consciously just meant you having a quick glance at a label inside the top, there and then? That’s easier right? With that in mind we’ve tapped sustainable resource expert Jennifer Krischer to teach us all about fibers, fabrics and the resources that go into making your clothes, which ones to look for and what makes them better. Get conscious folks.
I hate to break it to you, but wool is a difficult fiber to justify as far as ethics and sustainability.
While it’s really easy to get sucked into the vortex of sheep sheering videos on youtube, (this includes COMPETITIVE sheep sheering, which is absolutely mesmerizing), it is not a good way to determine the pros and cons of the wool industry, so for you guys, I dug a little deeper.
- Wool is a natural fiber which makes it biodegradable and non-toxic to the environment.
- Sheep need to be sheered or they can become overgrown and miserable.
- If properly maintained, wool goods can last years.
- Wool products are naturally water resistant and insulating.
- Mulesing is a major problem in the wool industry, specifically the Merino Wool industry, and is considered highly unethical by animal rights groups. Mulesing is a process in which the hind-quarters of the sheep are stripped in order to prevent flies from nesting in the rear end of the sheep. While it sounds like a way to prevent discomfort for the sheep, mulesing isn’t exactly the same thing as getting a bikini wax. I won’t go into detail because that’s been covered to death- you can read about it here – but just know it’s not a pleasant process. It is also argued that this can be prevented with better conditions and care for the sheep and mulesing is not a necessary procedure but instead one performed because more ethical measures are more costly or time consuming.
- While sheep do need to be sheered for their own comfort, it is because we bred them to grow heavy coats for our needs. However, at this point, they’ve already been bred, so sheering them is keeping them comfortable.
- It’s really hard to know if the wool you’ve purchased was ethically sourced. If the sheep were well cared for, if they weren’t abused or cut during the sheering process.
- The drop in wool prices in the last few years is due to over breeding the animals. Some regions have been plagued with desertification thanks to over-grazing by the animals.
So, how can we shop wool ethically?
For starters, if your primary concern is mulesing, many retailers have company wide directives that no mulesed wool will appear in their supply chain, these retailers include ASOS, Topshop, Zara, Ann Taylor/Loft and UNIQLO.
Companies like Patagonia and Eileen Fisher are committed to only using wool that is sourced ethically, paying attention not just to animal welfare but other environmental issues such as over-grazing.
The gold standard for ethical and sustainable wool is Zady. Their commitment to transparency goes above and beyond, each wool garment features a full run down of the source of the wool, what makes it sustainable, what makes it ethical and how. For example, the wool for their .01 sweater is sourced from Imperial Stock Ranch in Oregon. At the ranch they conserve snow melt and rainwater for use on the ranch, their livestock graze in a rotational system so as to not over graze the land but also to stimulate the root development in plants. You can learn more about the ranch and their practices here. Every step from sheep to sweater is documented on the Zady product page, and every step is an eco/ethical process.
So what should you look for?
- At a minimum: 100% wool (no acrylic or poly blends).
- Recycled wool.
- Companies that have stated they do not use mulesing practices in their supply chain.
- Organic or sustainably produced wool.
- Fair trade and domestically made products.