Fall means sweater weather. I love sweater weather, mainly for the sweaters. But if you went through the closet and realized all your sweaters got moth eaten, if you are already planning ahead to for ugly Christmas sweater season, or if you just need a sweater to match that awesome Rust and Fray upcycled bag you picked up, here are some tips for sourcing your wool ethically.
1. Climate Beneficial Wool
First up is one of the coolest things we’ve come across: Climate Beneficial Wool. Here is a longer primer on it, but the basic concept is to use innovative organic farming techniques so that the whole process of raising sheep to spinning wool puts more carbon into the ground than it puts into the air. In addition to some of the steps you’d expect a business going carbon-negative would take, such as using renewable energy and local sourcing, these wool producers will plant carbon efficient grazing crops like alfalfa, use responsible fertilizing techniques, mixing animal raising with perennial farming, no till planting, and other such techniques to transform the industry from...uhh...the ground up. The Fibershed Project is it’s main organizer so far, and helps connect farms to brands. If you want some of your own, right now the biggest company to support Climate Beneficial Wool is The North Face, but other brand like Coyuchi are taking up the cause, although both are mostly dealing in accessories right now, but if you want the wool itself you can always buy straight from the ranchers and artisans. We at Rust and Fray are really excited about Climate Beneficial Wool and hope that these practices can expand with more awareness and the right support. But if this is unobtainable for you at the moment, or really just need the sweater ready made, don’t worry, as there are other ways to make sure you’re buying wool ethically.
2. Second Hand
Getting second hand everything is always a good idea. Clothing waste is a monumental problem that really shouldn’t exist. While we churn through the land for the newest fashions and wearing clothes that are designed to break down we need to look towards reusing, mending, and upcycling, so buying second hand is a catch-all for all sorts of clothing issues. Second hand wool doesn’t just mean going to a thrift store, remember to swap clothing, give your sweaters to family members who’ll wear the item if you don’t, give away that sweater you accidently shrunk, and so on. Keep an item away from the landfill as long as possible. And if your sweaters did get moth eaten, you can always try and repair them before buying new.
3. Mulesing-Free/Cruelty Free
The second way to get ethical wool is to look for cruelty free wool, especially Mulesing-free. Mulesing is a practice used by industrial level wool producers where they fight the disease flystrike by removing a large section of the skin on the sheep’s rear. Mulesing isn’t the only way to prevent flystrike though, and while other methods tend to be a little more labor intensive they are undoubtedly much kinder for the sheep. Cruelty during shearing is another issue to look out for. Unscrupulous industrial sized farms sometimes hire low-skilled cheaper labor and pay them by the amount of wool sheared per day, which makes for a very torturous experience for the sheep. Hiring skilled shearers who know how to handle sheep can shear the sheep extremely quickly with minimal stress to the animal and without doing anything worse than a scratch. Remember, wool sheep are bred to overproduce wool, so shearing is necessary. Also keep in mind that most of these sloppy techniques and harmful practices come from larger brands trying to cut corners for maximizing profit, so the more well known a brand is, the more important it is to check for for cruelty-free options.
4. Alpaca Wool
Finally, if you want ethical wool, buying alpaca wool will always be at the minimum cruelty free. Now, there isn’t some secret alliance of alpaca farmers that all agreed to treat their livestock nicely, it’s a biological fact about alpacas. Their famous super soft wool only comes from animals that are healthy and mostly stress free, so it's not really possible to raise Alpacas in a way that’s harmful. It’s to the point where farmers will recommend aromatherapy to make sure the alpacas are as calm as possible when shearing. These gentle animals also have less of an environmental impact than similar animals, like cashmere goats, by being efficient wool producers that do less damage to the land they graze on. And don’t worry, the “baby” in baby alpaca doesn’t refer to the age of the animal, it’s grading the softness of the wool.
Thank you for reading, we hope this inspired you to make some more eco-conscious fashion choices in the future. If you enjoyed this article, follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and our Journal page for more, and be sure to let us know what you think in the comments!