It’s that time of year when we start reaching for woolly jumpers. On the face of it, a knit feels like one of the most natural, comforting things in the world. But do the sheep the wool came from feel the same way? That’s up for debate and if you care about animal welfare you need to investigate. Wool can be pretty wondrous. When labels choose a natural, organic fibre, over a man-made synthetic, they’re automatically protecting the environment – bypassing the pesticides used in conventional farming that contaminate water supply and land, endangering animals and their habitats.
Once we’ve bought a wool garment, we wash them less frequently and at lower temperatures (think about it in comparison to how often you wash your T-shirts). That means it has a lower impact on the environment. And a good-quality, classic knit can be a keeper – as long as you take care of it. When a woolly jumper’s time has come to an end, it can be recycled – one of the best-selling coats I design is I made with felted recycled wool. Wool is also easily biodegradable.
So the environmentalist in me is sold on wool. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that your woolly jumper was a happy sheep. If you care about animal welfare, make sure your knits are made from mulesing-free wool. Mulesing is a cruel way of removing a sheep’s skin when it has been infested with flies, using no pain relief. I believe there are more humane ways of doing this. Even when mulesing isn’t an issue, Peta has witnessed some pretty horrific practices involving sheep shearing. In shearing season more than 350 sheep will be clipped in one day, and that pace is maintained for up to four weeks. Shearers are usually paid by volume, not the hour, which pushes them to work fast, putting animal welfare aside.
What can you do? Look out for knits with mulesing-free, RWS (Responsible Wool Standard) or GOTS-certified labels. Bear in mind that South American wool is always non-mulesed as the sheep breed and climate prevent the infestation issues suffered on Australian and American sheep farms. We source our wool in Uruguay and I personally visited the farm, Lanas Trinidad, to make sure the sheep were looked after. A big problem is that labels only tell you where your garment was “made” – which could just mean where it was sewn together. They don’t give you the wool’s country of origin. This issue of transparency is big – and one I will spend my life fighting for legislation on.
But until our government stops baa-ing on about Brexit, we’re going to have to do the leg-work ourselves. So don’t be afraid to ask your favourite brands what their animal-welfare policies are and where they source their wool from.