The weather is changing and soon we will all be wrapping ourselves in the fabric of the season: Wool.
But before you slip into that sweater lets talk about where that wool comes from.
Everyone knows that wool comes from sheep, right? But do you know HOW the wool is obtained?
When most people think of wool they don’t think of it as a fiber that is harmful to animals. The general consumer thinks that wool is shaved off a sheep’s back- kind of like a haircut- and then the happy little bald sheep runs back into the field to romp and play with its other sheep friends until he grows another coat and its time for another haircut. No big deal right?
A dear old friend, who is a vegan, shared with me that he has been on the hunt for some cruelty free wool sweaters and jackets for he and his girlfriend but having a difficult time with it. He asked if I would write a post on the subject.
I thought “sure no problem”, “this will be a snap”, “no big deal, I’ll bang this out in about an hour” (I am VERY good at finding things- that’s what I do for a living).
Fast forward 2 WEEKS, yes 2 WEEKS of searching, and searching, and emailing companies, and watching horribly shocking PETA videos (which made me cry and BTW these feet are NEVER touching a pair of UGGS again), and tweeting, then swearing off wool forever. Not only was I emotionally scarred- I also realized this was not an easy task.
Ah the magic of Twitter. I met a great eco-designer named Lara Miller (check out her designs they are amazing) who introduced me to another eco-tastic company: Indigenous– “organic fair trade fashion that holds themselves accountable to make choices that honor both people and the planet”.
Not only does Indigenous use cruelty free wool they continue their eco-practices ALL THE WAY through the production of the garments by using low-impact dyeing programs (which eliminate harmful chemicals and waste, providing innumerable environmental and health benefits) and encouraging, supporting and expecting sound environmental management from the mills that finish their fibers.
I sat down with Matt Reynolds President and Co-founder of Indigenous to discuss the wool trade and get some advice on how to make the right decisions when considering a wool purchase.
Q: One of the main reasons many people are hesitant to purchase wool is because of the practice of mulesing. For those that don’t know what it is can you explain?
MR: Mulesing is a skilled surgical task that involves the removal of strips of wool-bearing skin from around the breech (buttocks) of a sheep to prevent flystrike (myiasis) in regions where it is common. Mulesing is common practice in Australia as a way to reduce the incidence of flystrike on Merino sheep in regions where flystrike (or Myiasis) is common. (note INDIGENOUS Merino comes from New Zealand and Peru from farms where they do not practice mulesing).
Mulesing is a controversial practice. “The Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) recognizes the welfare implications of mulesing of sheep.
Every year 140 million sheep become victim to a painful process known as mulesing. Merino sheep, which are bred to have wrinkled skin to allow thicker wool, attract egg laying flies to the folds of their skin. The flies, attracted by moisture, lay eggs in these folds of skin. Once hatched, maggots can eat a sheep alive and cause extreme distress. To combat this, large chunks of the animals skin is cut off from their backsides without any anaesthetic. Mulesing is considered the norm in the Australian agriculture business and plans to phase out the cruel practice by 2010 were scrapped.
What can be done now?
The key to effectively managing flystrike in the absence of mulesing is an integrated approach to blowfly control. Such an approach includes animal husbandry and farm management practices that take into account the timing of shearing and crutching, the timing of tail docking (should that be required), strategic application of chemical treatments (should they be required) and, importantly, regular inspection of the flock.
Q: EEK. That is awful. How can we ensure that the wool we are buying is cruelty free?
MR: That is very difficult question. Action.
Avoid buying any wool from Australia as the chances are, the sheep and lambs would have undergone the mulesing process. Many sheep and goats, once they have fulfilled their purpose in the wool industry, are sold to be slaughtered. Sheep and goats can be shipped hundreds or even thousands of kilometres away to slaughterhouses where animal welfare laws are virtually nonexistent. Thus, as with most animals used for clothing, there is a relationship with the meat industry. Buying wool contributes to the meat industry as it provides farmers with profits to produce more and more animals.
In my opinion, Cruelty free wool comes from sheep that are well-fed, well- cared-for, have lots of pesticide-free pasture, are protected against predators, in good health with lots of friends…and then their wool is cleaned with eco-detergent, dried in the fresh air, hand separated, carted and then dyed with low-impact environmentally friendly dyes.
There are also some great alternatives to wool including: cotton, Alpaca and Tencel. Purchasing these alternatives will ensure that less sheep are bred and exploited for their wool.
Q: What is Alpaca Fleece/Wool?
MR: Alpaca fleece is several times warmer than wool and offers great insulating properties due to microscopic air pockets in the fiber itself. It is hypoallergenic and has no lanolin, the natural oil often responsible for itchiness in “wool”. Alpaca has a smoother cuticle than cashmere, endowing it with an exceptionally soft hand, but it is far stronger and more resilient than wool because it retains its strength even at the finest gauges. It is both water repellent and flame retardant. Alpaca exhibits brilliant natural luster and a sophisticated neutral palette of 22 colors, from white to creams to grays and black, and the lighter shades dye beautifully. For overseas markets long fixated on cashmere and mohair, the dawning of appreciation for alpaca’s many attributes marks the next chapter in the fiber’s narrative and new opportunities. At INDIGENOUS we only use “baby alpaca” or “royal alpaca”, which is the softest fleece obtained from sheering the Alpaca, located on the under belly.
Believed to be a gift from Pachamama, the sacred earth mother– alpaca have been present during the rise and fall of many human civilizations from the point of their domestication 6,000 years ago. As the lives of the alpaca and humans became increasingly and intricately woven within ancient South American culture, they became revered and honored for their integral place in pre-Colombian society. The people of the Andes developed an exquisite language of gratitude for the animals who became a vital source of food, fiber, fuel and skins.
The people and their herds co-existed peacefully until the 1500′s, until the alpaca, like the Incan culture as a whole was met by the invasion of Spanish colonists. The animals were massacred by the millions by militia members who saw them as the linchpin to the Incan empire, and did everything in their power to decimate all aspects of the indigenous culture.
The alpaca were relegated to high mountain plateaus– where they remained safe and protected from modern European weaponry. Today less than 4.9 million alpaca exist. They are a species whose numbers are still recovering from 500 years of history.
Q: What are the options for a vegan or person who cares about cruelty free/sustainable products? Should they give up wool?
MR: Customers should be able to learn more about how their garments are made, from both a human labor condition standpoint and a fiber standpoint. I don’t think you should have to give up on one of the oldest natural fibers known to man. Instead, take the time to investigate the brands you wear and ask questions. INDIGENOUS is working hard to bring transparency to the fashion industry. While some fashion brands hide what goes on in their production process, INDIGENOUS invites customers to openly experience ours.
INDIGENOUS’ new Fair Trace Tool™ uses mobile-enabled web technology to let shoppers see where garments originate and how fibers were raised; to meet the artisans who hand-make them and to learn about INDIGENOUS’ positive social impact. INDIGENOUS has begun shipping our 2012 line with a QR code on every hang tag that connects to the garment origin traceability tool via any smart phone. “The Fair Trace Tool™ is one more way that INDIGENOUS is raising consumer awareness of the vital importance of fair trade and organic fashion to artisans in the developing world, and to the environment. It is part of our commitment to create fashion that honors the people who wear it, and the people who produce it”, says Scott Leonard, INDIGENOUS Co-founder and CEO.
The Fair Trace Tool™ offers a brand video, artisan profiles, an origins map and social impact data, including results of artisan workforce surveys. We are hoping that by sharing the beauty of what goes into our fashion as well as the beauty of our eco-chic styling, we will encourage even more fashionistas to become passionistas about buying only fashion that is good for people and planet.
Wool: Mulesing, Shearing, Holding Pens and Transportation: www.veganpeace.com/animal_cruelty/wool.htm
PETA Inside the Wool Industry: www.peta.org/issues/Animals-Used-for-Clothing/inside-the-wool-industry.aspx
Animal Australia: Mulesing Cruelty: www.animalsaustralia.org/issues/mulesing.php
Global Action Network: What Not to Wear- Wool: www.gan.ca/lifestyle/crueltyfree+shopping/what+not+to+wear.en.html
RSPCA Australia Mulesing and Mulesing alternatives: http://kb.rspca.org.au/What-is-mulesing-and-what-are-the-alternatives_113.html
Care2 Animal Welfare Blogs: Wool – www.care2.com/causes/animal-welfare/blog/think-wool-is-a-great-fur-alternative-not-quite/