Growing up I remember going shopping, picking up a wool shirt, and my mom saying "wool is hot and itchy, put that back." Now, I see a resurgence in wool from brands like All Birds (see this wool sneaker!) My mom often gave advice that wasn't always right and in the case, I think she was wrong again.
What I love about wool is that it has natural antibacterial properties (how a fiber does this honestly still blows my mind). It is moisture wicking meaning when you sweat the material passes through to the outside making you feel cooler. Sheep need to be sheared anyway so that's a sustainability plus. And finally, it can be discarded into a landfill to be degraded back to nature.
Like any mass produced fiber, there are some serious downsides to wool. The first is that sheep have been bred and genetically modified to produce the most amount of hair possible. This isn't good for the sheep. Can you imagine if you had so much hair you could barely hold your head up, or bend your legs? All of this hair causes other issues from some pesky little bugs that get into the sheep fur. These bury into their skin and suck their blood. To help combat this issue the entire sheep is dipped into a chemical solution to prevent this bug. Mulesing, removing the skin near the anus of the sheep to prevent bug infestation near that skin, is also common. The animals have no pain relief during this and it looks extremely painful, just give it a search yourself.
What as a consumer do we need to know to help ensure we aren't buying wool pieces from companies that treat their wool poorly?
1. Look for information on where the wool comes from and chances are if the brand isn't talking about where it comes from then its not coming from somewhere good. Cross check the brand. For instance, All Birds uses ZQ Merino then check out what ZQ Merino is and see if there is any bad press etc when you search for it. Patagonia uses Responsible Wool Certification to ensure that their wool is coming from farms that abide by certain animal welfare and farming conditions.
2. As with all purchases look at the company website before purchasing to try to find information on their supply chain and practices.
3. Lastly, always think about your purchases in advance - is this something that you need? Especially when purchasing a protein fiber like wool where an animal had to grow the fiber, have it removed and possibly could have been mistreated or hurt in the process.
Respect these fibers as you would respect a living animal.