Winter is fast-approaching and many of us will be looking to purchase cosy, warm garments to see us through the colder months.
But with so many different types of wool to choose from, how can we be sure we’re that making ethical choices?
For years, wool has been the fail-safe textile for winter, but it’s also a material which has prompted much debate, specifically with concerns over the way animals are treated when wool is sheared.
Last year, a PETA investigation uncovered abuse at more than 30 shearing sheds in the US and Australia and according to the animal rights organisation ‘Shearers were caught punching, kicking, and stomping on sheep, in addition to hitting them in the face with electric clippers and standing on their heads, necks, and hind limbs’.
Off the back of animal cruelty investigations, fashion brands such as ASOS have banned garments containing mohair and cashmere.
Staying informed and knowing where materials come from is a great way to help you make a decision on whether you want to purchase wool products.
For those not clued up, below are different types of wool and the main animal welfare concerns surrounding them.
Mohair is made from the wool of Angora goats. It’s known for its silky, resilient properties and is often used for luxury jumpers, cardigans, coats and scarves.
However, mohair has dominated the headlines over recent years due to reports of severe animal cruelty, such as being mutilated in order for the fluffy mohair to be produced, according to PETA. Footage released by the organisation showed the animals being harmed and handled violently at farms in South Africa.
Many high street brands such as H&M, Zara, GAP and more have all pledged to stop ordering and selling mohair products, as a direct result of this investigation.
Known for its silky fibres, cashmere is widely considered to be one the most luxurious wool materials.
It’s also rare – on average, it takes around three to four goats to make just one regular jumper, which is why the price tag is usually so high.
Research has found that the goats are forced to have winter shearings at a time when they most need their coats. As a result, they are exposed to harsh winter temperatures with little protection.
A number of brands, such a Stella McCartney and Patagonia, have been working solely with a recycled version of the fibre, which involves using post-factory waste. Stella McCartney has even banned ‘virgin’ cashmere entirely.
Swedish retailer Arket has also said that cashmere production must be handled more responsibly and uses ‘recycled’ cashmere.
Merino wool is known for its softness and breathability, as well as temperature-regulating properties.
However, collecting merino wool can sometimes involve a process called mulesing, a practice which involves removing strips of wool-bearing skin from around the buttocks of a sheep, to prevent a condition called flystrike (where flies lay eggs, which hatch into maggots who subsequently ‘eat’ the sheep’s flesh).
It’s a very painful procedure and, worryingly, animal campaigners have said that more than 20 million merino breed lambs are currently mulesed each year.
Of course, there are a number of fashion brands that source their merino wool ethically – without mulesing – and many are keen to be transparent about production.
New Zealand-based brand Icebreaker was the first brand to pioneer a ‘Baa Code’, where customers could track how their garment was made from start to finish.
It’s always worth taking a closer look into the brand you want to buy merino wool from, and read up on the measures they taking to help with animal welfare.
In terms of wool, alpaca is thought to be one of the most ethical, as the animals are not harmed during the shearing process and can continue to produce wool for many years.
What’s more, alpaca farming does generally not involve harsh chemicals – so the process is safe and natural for both the farmers and the environment.
Buying second-hand wool products is another option to consider, or opting for brands that champion recycled wool.
People Tree, Ally Bee and Flock By Nature are a few brands that promote ethical wool production. Likewise, Cornish brand Finisterre was the first brand to produce merino wool in the UK, from non-mulesed merino sheep.
So, in terms of ethics, mohair and cashmere appear to be the worst offenders, with merino following behind and alpaca at the top.
Some people argue that sheep shearing is a natural process of farming and – as long as animals are not harmed in the process – there should be nothing wrong with wool production.
However, wool is still an animal by-product, so it’s likely that animal campaigners will continue to urge the industry to boycott it entirely.