What Role Does Wool Play In A Sustainable Fashion Industry?
What Role Does Wool Play In A Sustainable Fashion Industry?
There is a major environmental problem in the fashion industry right now. Decades of complacency and ignorance over the manufacture of high volumes of garments has led to a mountain of waste and ongoing pollution.
A trend for fast fashion and a lack of sustainability in the fashion industry became the norm. We now have ongoing issues with emissions, manufacture processes, sustainable growth, microparticles and more. But, there may be a solution in the form of wool.
There are growing calls for the textile industry to begin promoting wool as a sustainable and environmentally friendly solution. While there are still many consumers that regard wool as an old-fashioned material, it seems to have more than enough properties and benefits to outrank other materials.
So, why is wool such a good alternative for a sustainable fashion industry? Also, are there any potential obstacle to prevent it from becoming a more popular choice?
The short answer here is yes. Wool is so much better because it is a truly sustainable material that regrows via the livestock. If you can ethically manage a herd of sheep, you can produce a continual cycle of wool products.
There are also the advantages that it is biodegradable when it turns into a material, doesn’t require large areas for crops, unlike cotton, and is a long-lasting material when cared for. Wool garments can be completely natural and organic. The problem comes in selling the sustainability of wool to the younger generation.
Before we can look at why these wool garments are so advantageous, we need to look more closely at the problems associated with synthetic materials and modern textile production.
There are damaging norms that need to change, and some consumers remain oblivious to them. As long as these problems stay under the radar and fast-fashion is still acceptable, it will be harder to undo the damage.
There is a massive problem of waste and emission from the factories involved in garment manufacture. There are also too many waste products in water supplies. In 2016, it was estimated that clothing manufacture had doubled, with a heavy reliance on synthetic materials.
Yet, the population only grew by 20%. That means a lot of unnecessary production. It seems that companies do this because they can, rather than out of any necessity.
The Global Fashion Industry produced more greenhouse gases than France, Germany and the UK together in 2018. A total of 2.1 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide— this is more than four per cent of total global CO2 emission. Without any significant actions, this figure an rise to around 2.7 billion tonnes a year by 2030
The use of synthetic materials doesn’t just mean greater waste and dangerous products in manufacture. These garments can contain all kinds of artificial agents and microfibres, sometimes even a surprising amount of plastic.
Each time we wash these clothes, those chemical dyes and tiny particles end up in the water system. We associate problems of fish digesting plastic in the ocean with litter and items discarded at sea. But, some particles may originate from your washing machine.
Fast fashion is a concept that sounded great at the time but has become highly dangerous. The idea here is that younger generations get through clothing at a faster rate than ever before.
It all comes back to that notion of increased supply from the wide-scale manufacture of synthetic items. There is a long-term notion that we need something new for each season, or just whenever we feel like it.
Clothing brands need to compete for sales with a wider range and become wasteful. Good items end up on landfill when they are simply out of fashion or don’t sell. Or, the garments simply don’t last long enough and are thrown out and replaced.
These problems are alarming when consumers consider them for the first time. But, they may wonder what the alternative is when this is the norm for consumer habits.
The answer may lie in the sustainability of wool as its manufacture and properties can help to reduce these problems. Turning to sustainability sourced wool from the right suppliers can help to reduce reliance on that fast fashion industry and minimize its impact.
Sustainability means finding a natural material that you can turn to again and again without exploiting an area and its resources.
Wool is a perfect choice because you can get a large natural mass of material, remove it with ease from the sheep, and repeat when it regrows. The quality and density of the wool vary from species to species. Some, such as the Merino sheep, are highly prized for their feel and productivity.
Natural wool breaks down over time, much like our own hair and other natural fibres.
Therefore, if we were to throw it away, it wouldn’t remain in the landfill indefinitely like other synthetic materials. The use of thick wool for fleece clothing and blankets also means like reliance on those plastics and microfibres found in synthetic fleece materials.
While there is that ability to throw items away and rely on them to degrade naturally, there is a less frequent need to do so with wool. Wool is strong and a well-made wool garment should be built to last.
You can get quality items that become treasured possessions as they retain the memories of various holidays and events over the years. As long as the still fit and don’t get damaged, you wear them year on year. Even if they no longer fit, someone else may get some use out of it second-hand.
On a related note, there is also the fact that wool has odour-resistant properties and stays cleaner and fresher for longer. This should reduce the need for washing, which in turn limits our use of water, minimize our impact on water-based ecosystems, and allows the garment to last even longer.
There are those question why we are so focused on wool when there are other natural materials out there. 100% natural cotton garments are also much better than cheap synthetic options.
However, it takes a lot of space to grow cotton. That is a field taken away from sustainable food production or from the natural environment. Also, any crop requires plenty of water for healthy growth. You also need the machinery to harvest it. Sheep that are free to roam don’t have the same sorts of requirements from natural resources.
This is a big one. CO2 emissions remain one of the biggest concerns for climate change. The fewer factories we have burning fuel and pumping out pollution, the better our chances to stop climate change.
Simple textile production from local sheep farmers and wool producers doesn’t have that same level of intensity. There are always going to be concerned about the emissions from the animals themselves, but it is better than reliance on factories.
Finally, there is a deeper level of sustainable wool fashion when you ensure that it is 100% natural. Consumers can look out for a supplier that focuses on organic wool with no synthetic dyes or other chemicals that could add to environmental damage.
Brands that double down on the ethical and environmental benefits could improve sales with the right market.
There is clearly a lot to love about wool. However, we can’t champion wool as the saviour of the sustainable fashion industry until we also look at some of the potential downsides or wool and sustainable fashion.
Some people aren’t as convinced that wool is the answer – and some that won’t wear it at all.
Veganism is on the rise across the world and there are different approaches to this trend. Some people are strict on their consumption of animal products like dairy goods – either due to farming practices or a desire not to exploit the animal.
Others are more flexible and simply try to reduce reliance on these products and to shop more ethically. Then there are those that won’t touch anything that required an animal to produce it for ethical reasons. This typically involves the use of honey and wool. If more people take this viewpoint, the wool industry could struggle.
Then there are those that are uncertain about buying wool products because of other potential ethical issues. They may be OK with the use of wool from cruelty-free farms and producers with a good reputation. But, there isn’t always that guarantee that the sheep that supplied the wool for your new jumper were well-treated.
Stories about the disrespect and abuse of sheep, such as those beaten before sheering or the cuts made to Merino sheep, may not sit well with all consumers.
Finally, we have to consider where these products come from. Air miles are another problem with many consumer goods, as we import items from across the world. This is true for any mass-produced clothing from cheaper sources in Asia.
However, does your new wool clothing come from further afield? Companies that use Merino wool need to bring that in from New Zealand or Australia. Then there is the transportation of the finished good from their company to store or online buyers. The carbon footprint of wool is still going to be smaller, but we can’t pretend that it doesn’t exist.
There are solutions to some of these issues. We can reduce air miles by making the most of locally reared sheep and wool products within a local economy. We can also pledge to regulate the welfare standard on these farms to deal with any concerns about the treatment of the animals.
This could be more than enough to convince most animal lovers that the wool is ethical and a great way to celebrate the sheep. Hard-line vegans that are adamant about all animal products may be harder to convince.
There are some clear pros and cons here in the use of wool and sustainable fashion. While there are lots of reasons for the average consumer to look into choosing long-lasting, ethically sourced wool, some younger buyers may need more convincing.
The stumbling block is the issue of veganism and animal welfare. If some passionate Gen-Z consumers aren’t convinced that the product is ethical, they won’t make the switch. The fight becomes an issue between sustainability in fashion and ethical production of sustainable materials.
Once consumers can be sure of a 100% ethical and sustainable wool garment, made to last, and fashionable, wool has a chance to be a big player in the sustainable fashion world.
Right now, this desire to decrease synthetic textile production and turn to wool is still a big ask. The younger generations may be the last to use natural wool in fashion as they struggle with some of the implications.
Others may just be too hooked on fast fashion to change. Yet, some are more inclined to find quality items that will last. There are certainly enough benefits in using wool to make it a great choice for a more sustainable fashion industry.
There is no need for things to continue the way they are, but we just need a change in consumer spending and attitude to relay that message to fashion brands.
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