It’s the time of year that bundling up into a jumper is the perfect way to stave off the crispy frost that creeps in. I fell down a rabbit hole of wool recently and discovered that not all wool is.. Well, created equally.
Ethically some methods don’t sit well with me, and it wasn’t until I looked into the methods that I realised I needed to refine my choices when it comes to knitwear. There is some incredibly dark animal cruelty hiding behind our winter woolies and one frosty day in November I made it my prerogative to delve into the murky world of the woollen industry.
Some brands have already implemented their own ethical decisions such as ASOS who are pledging not to sell mohair, cashmere, silk, feathers or down but what prompted that decision?
Mohair is a silk like fabric or yarn created from the hair of an angora goat. You may be familiar with the term angora wool, but that’s a very different wool taken from rabbits which I’ll go into later.
Elastic, durable and resilient mohair doesn’t hold creases and it has a very attractive appearance when it comes to knitwear providing a pearly sheen to garments and it takes dye incredibly well. Mohair is insulating during the colder seasons, yet it’s also known for its ability to deter moisture in the warmer months meaning it’s an attractive choice for designers all year round.
Why is mohair not an ethical choice? It begins when the angora goats are merely weeks old. Between having their horns forcibly removed with a hot iron or chemical paste, males being castrated using rubber rings the atrocities go on. Sadly angora goats don’t have a quality of life and often face being shorn much more then usual leaving them to face freezing temperatures without what nature have them to protect them.
⚠️ PETA have conducted an investigation into the treatment of angora goats, which can be read here. It’s not an easy read, but it highlights exactly why mohair should be avoided, and includes photographs.
Cashmere is another wool taken from goats – this time the cashmere or pashmina goats. Cashmere is expensive, and in incredibly high demand due to its smooth, luxurious texture and fine, soft fibres. It’s known for its ‘luxury’ reputation which makes it incredibly popular in high-end fashion circles.
Sadly these goats face shearing in midwinter. As these animals are often farmed in China and Mongolia this means they face bitterly cold winters. Goats have very little body fat, not having their insulating coat at this time causes ‘cold stress’ and often results in death. Those that do pass are often sold on as cheap meat for the market.
Merino wool is shorn from the merino sheep – a breed of sheep which holds the title of the most historically relevant and economically valuable breeds. It’s wool is hugely prized for its super soft and fine wool which is made up of long fibres. Longer fibres are important in wool as it makes the wool stronger – those made up of wool with short fibres tends to fray much easier.
Because the wool is so soft, it’s perfect for those with even the most sensitive skin – but it’s fine texture means double the amount of wool is needed to create a garment.
Sadly, merino sheep often face something called ‘mulesing’ in order to prevent something called ‘flystrike’. Flystrike is when a fly lays it’s eggs on skin, and they hatch into maggots which eat away at the skin tissue. Patagonia, the outdoor clothing brand discovered that certain suppliers of wool were performing a procedure on their sheep to stop this happening. They’d remove the skin from sheep around the buttocks (often without anaesthetic) so that flies were unable to gather there. Flystrike is prevented by regular checking and certain insecticides, as most rabbit owners are aware but due to the sheer volume of animals used by these farms they see mulesing as the best option.
How can I avoid unethical wool?
When buying wool and woollen products, look for standards and certifications that ensure the fair treatment of animals and use of the environment, such as the Responsible Wool Standard, Merino Standard by ZQ and the Soil Association Standards.
You can also look for clothing made from recycled wool and scout the charity shops for pre-loved or vintage wool items. Picking something up from a charity shop or any second hand method prolongs the life of that item – wool does biodegrade so the best way to ‘throw away’ that item is to donate it. That extends its shelf life and means the animal that produced the materials to create the item hasn’t done so for one or two seasons of wear.
Of course if you do possess the gift of knitting or crochet, sourcing your wool ethically means you can create your own woollen wardrobe this season.