Materials, especially the main, shell fabrication, are what designers and brands would look at first in a sustainability effort. It is probably one of the simplest and most visible areas to make a sustainable fashion product. Though finding the perfect fabric for the style that meets the high degree of criteria like sustainability and transparency is challenging, it still is less complicated than making changes to the overall operation or business strategy.
Similarly, customers can look at materials easily are when looking for more sustainable options. However, within this noisy, information flooded the world, it can be difficult to understand what sustainable materials mean. Plus, you may encounter seemingly opposing opinions or explanations. Just like everything in the world – there is no black and white. To me, just improving my understanding little by little and ponder the concept of sustainability helps. So why don’t we start with understanding some basics of most popular fabrications?
It is now November so I will share a little bit about wool. Wool is the hair of some mammals. Some wools have fancy names like Merino (Merino sheep hair) Cashmere (Cashmere goat hair). These are basically protein called keratin.
Wool has a long history and there are records that Babylonians were wearing clothing of wool fabric. Seeking protection and warmth, people started to raise wool-bearing animals like sheep. The English were good at raising sheeps the U.K. Still holds its title of producing quality wool. Fun facts; there were even laws making certain people wear garments made of English wool. Today Australia makes 1/4 of the world wool while the U.S is the largest consumer of the wool fabric.
Wool is easy to clean, resistant to wrinkles, absorbs moisture, and insulate. Unlike fur, wool is also elastic. It is said that each fiber is stretched 25-30% before breaking. Compared to plant-based fibers, wool is stronger. And that is why wool makes a great material for suiting and outerwear.
Sheep are sheared once a year, usually in the Spring. The fleece from a shell is kept in once piece as much as possible and they are graded based on quality. Based on the overall quality, the best is used for clothing, and the lesser is used to make rugs. The raw material then is cleaned and combed (called Carding) then spun to yarns. Then the yarn is woven into a fabric. Then the fabrics would go through a series of finishing and or dyeing.
Wool is a natural fiber that is durable, versatile, and biodegradable. Wool farming takes place where food crops can’t grow and wool is natural carbon storage. so I would consider wool a more sustainable material. But if you have a vegan lifestyle, this may off the table. One of the most controversial issues with wool is directly related to Animal welfare. Some sheep undergo the practice called Mulesing which means parts of their wool-bearing skin is removed in order to prevent the infection from flies. It is debatable whether mulesing is just bad, as it is perceived as a necessary procedure for sheep in some areas.
There are brands use Mulesing-Free or Organic Wool. You may see certified cruelty-free wool. For me though, reducing waste is a more urgent cause and I would like to focus on finding great quality recycled wool materials.
Wool is often associated with cold wear gear (own a few pairs of wool socks?) but it is a great material for all seasons depending on the weight and weaves. With its breathability, you may enjoy a fine wool sweater in summer or wool suit jackets. Yes, I hope to make them soon!