Thoughts on wool

I've always preferred natural materials.   The feel, breathability and longevity of natural materials is unbeatable. While I have worked with wool/alpaca and silk in the past (5+ years ago), The lack of supply chain transparency got to be too worrisome. After reevaluating my practices, I started sourcing from Treliske in NZ.  I felt good about that decision for a few years (I still think they are one of the best options for merino), but honestly without ever seeing their facility and considering the energy necessary to transport the wool from New Zealand to the just didn't make sense for me.   I decided to produce my own yarns.  I ordered sheep fleeces from a small family farm in California.  Over the next few months the fleeces will be processed at a local mill (In Oregon! Guys, I can't wait to visit!)  The finished yarn will eventually arrive in my portland studio to be hand-knit/handloomed by me into a small knitwear collection-releasing this fall. 


Let's talk about wool:

Wool gets a bad rap, and oftentimes it is deserving of it's reputation. Industrial agriculture is never going to be "gentle" to our animal friends. The kind of volume industrial wool production has to meet-based on massive demand from large chain stores-will never encourage mindful care of animals or environmentally sound production practices. It's all about more material + faster turnaround time = $$$. This kind of mindset is inherently harmful to the animals providing fiber, the land they reside on and even the people that are responsible for harvesting the fiber/managing the animals. The easiest way to avoid all this is to circumvent big agriculture and source from small local farms and small fiber mills. Doing this creates COMPLETE transparency. Know the people, the animals and the mills and then you can be sure you are TRULY getting a cruelty free, ethical, humane, environmentally sustainable wool product.   

About 6 months ago PETA shared a video showing sheep being mistreated by a company called Ovis21.  Ovis21 works with a network of Argentinean sheep farmers and the video was filmed by someone (undercover?) at one of the farms that was part of the Ovis21 network.  The video was graphic and showed inhumane treatment of sheep by workers on the farm.  It was hard to watch.  Since the release of the video, after much public outcry, many clothing brands (patagonia was quick to respond, and their responses HERE and HERE are worth reading) that were sourcing wool with Ovis21 have completely cut ties with the company.   It should be noted that Ovis21 has marketed itself as a sustainable solution to large -scale wool production, ethical farming etc...The program as a whole had great potential, unfortunately the animal cruelty that was happening at it's farms was intolerable. The Responsible Wool Standard Committee is making progress with preventing these situations from happening, but honestly it's not where it needs too be.  However, with time, it has the potential to get there. 

Veganism and it's anti-wool agendas goes way back.  While most of their energy it is directed at large-scale wool producers, the across the board stance that: "wool is bad & synthetics are better" is so dangerous.  Synthetic materials are so very harmful to our planet, people and the animals that reside here.  Not only are they harmful to manufacture, but after wear and tear and disposal-they will never fully biodegrade.  This leaves synthetic materials (A.K.A plastics) polluting our water and land.  So, instead of boycotting all wool, why not promote small family farms producing gently raised wool products from happy + well-cared for sheep? Sheep need to be sheared (does anyone remember Shrek?), and if we care for them gently and shear them at seasonally appropriate times, we can use their beautiful wool to create soft, durable and long-lasting garments to clothe ourselves.  Supporting small farms and local manufacturing is:  

better for the planet 

better for the animals 

and better for you. 

I am always in favor of calling out cruelty and non-sustainability, but we need to promote gentle and sustainable alternatives at the same time.  PETA often shouts the loudest and yet they accomplish the least. By pressuring all those brands to sever ties with Ovis21 (instead of encouraging them to re-work their farming techniques) they permanently damaged a company that had the potential to produce ethical + sustainable wool.  I'm not saying it would be easy (reworking large-scale manufacture to be more gentle is never an easy task), but it could have been worth the effort.  Things are never black and white-especially within agriculture and manufacturing-and applying critical thinking and utilizing independent research is the only way for us all to make better choices.