We love Autumn fashion at 69b! Bring on the boots, denim and especially knitwear. And wool is a natural, biodegradable fibre so surely a woolly jumper is one of the most sustainable garments?
Unfortunately the answer is that it depends on how the wool is sourced. Although wool yarn is biodegradable and even compostable, depending on how it’s produced it may not be ethical.
Industrial livestock grazing can mean land clearing and environmental degradation, as well as the large amounts of harmful methane gas released by grazing sheep. Industrial farming methods can treat wool producing animals as though they are a crop, and maximising profit can mean sacrificing the well-being of animals, particularly when it comes to mulesing.
What is mulesing and why should you care?
Wool is a natural product of a sheep’s life-cycle, and their welfare is improved by them being shorn every 12 months. British Wool state that shearing sheep reduces the risk of parasite infestation, avoids heat stress and keeps the animals comfortable.
The biggest concern with sheep shearing is a procedure called ‘mulesing’, which involves cutting chunks of skin from a lamb’s buttocks to prevent flies from laying eggs in the folds of the wool. This is intended to reduce the risk of fly-borne diseases, but it is often carried out without anaesthetic or pain relief.
The RSPCA in Australia states that mulesing can cause substantial challenges to sheep welfare, with the wounds taking 5-7 weeks to heal and the lambs suffering acute pain for up to several weeks. If you are feeling up to it there’s a detailed description of the mulesing process and the concerns around it on the RSPCA Australia website.
Ethical wool production
Mulesing is fortunately prohibited in the UK, but not in Australia, one of the largest wool producers. New Zealand is the world leader in ethical wool production, and the country’s Animal Welfare Act strictly prohibits the practice of mulesing. In addition to this, smaller scale artisanal farming around the world helps to ensure the welfare of sheep.
Artisanal scale wool production ensures sheep are raised free range in low density flocks, and sheep are shorn when their coats get heavy in warmer conditions, so they’re not deprived of insulation when it’s cold.
How can you ensure that your jumper is cruelty free?
We have labeled our knitwear on the website 'Responsible Wool' or 'Organic Wool' or 'UK Made' so you can be assured it is cruelty free.
The certifications to look out for are:
- Responsible Wool Standard (RWS)
- Certified Organic Wool
- Certified Animal Welfare Approved
- Certified Humane Label
- ZQ Merino Standard
- Soil Association Organic Standard
These Standards guarantee that the sheep were raised in a way that’s better for their well-being as well as the environment.
*With apologies for the pun in the title