Day 88 / 365

One would think, with the history of wool, that nothing could be nicer to the earth. It's biodegradable, can withstand most weather conditions, and keeps our wandering souls warm.

When it comes to wool production we picture lambs jumping at the sides of their freshly sheared mama’s at the start of spring, enjoying a new lightnesss only nature and the friendly farmer's shearer can bring. The farmer calls each sheep by name, they've even named the babies, who wear small bells around their neck tied with multicoloured ribbions. Indoors, the farmer’s partner, washes, drys and spins his/her pets' wool, ready to be knit into every cosy thing imaginable. Free of dyes or harmful chemicals. Completely at one with nature and love made from cradle to creation.

Unfortunately, in today’s money hungry age of having lots and caring not, the story is not so simple. Even nature's gifts can be tainted by the ever present inhumane human hand.

I recently had a conversation with some vegan friends about their choices for cosy apparel. Vegan’s believe, and rightly so, that we shouldn’t use by-products from our furry, feathered or fauna friends without permission from them, and until we can learn to speak the various lingos above and below land, must find other options.

The problem for vegans is the other options available, often leave only synthetic choices (wheter it's leather, knits or otherwise), which are horrible for the earth and her inhabitants, including all wildlife. It’s a catch 22, avoiding harming animals by avoiding their byproducts and harming animals anyway because the alternatives to their byproducts are harmful to wildlife. 

It shouldn’t be this way. 

I wrote, recently, about alpaca (here), and how I feel, even under the policies of the vegan community the sheer fact the alpaca must feel love, respect and companionship from their keepers to produce a viable fibre (if they’re unhappy their FUR drys out and becomes matted and discoloured making it impossible to ‘profit’ from). It is possibly one of the few commerce relationships between human and animal that is unprofitable without Love.

Sheep don’t have the same visible communication techniques as their other furry friends (though I believe if you look in any animal’s eyes you’ll see a recognizable spectrum of emotions). There have been horrific videos of late from wool farms where the sheep are beaten and sheared til bleeding and often killed in the process of acquiring their wool (wool production can also be a byproduct of the meat industry).

This is one of the few times I’ll beg you to watch something horrible, the animal rights abuses seen in this video for sheep being sheered for J.Crew and Ralph Lauren are absolutely heartbreaking.

In THIS VIDEO you will see workers (who provide wool to fast fashion companies you find in the mall / hight street) violently punching, kicking, and throwing terrified sheep during their shearing session. One clip depicts a shearer twisting and breaking a sheep neck, before dumping the body, another shows shearers jabbing at sheep eyes and hitting them on the head with a hammer. It's completely fucked up and wrong. It took me about ten goes to get through the whole video, it's absolutely horrifying. But it doesn't stop there, Peta investigated a supplier called Ovis 21, which supplies to brands like Alexander McQueen, Balenciaga, Bottega Veneta, Brioni, Christopher Kane, Gucci, Volcom and Saint Laurent and in their investigation they filmed THIS VIDEO which depects workers skinning the animal alive. Until this video came out Ovis 21 were also supplying ethical brands Patagonia and Stella McCartney, both brands have since stopped sourcing from this Ovis 21, though the luxury brands listed remain as clients.

The reality is, if you take wool lightly, you’re taking animal life lightly. And once you’ve watched the videos I linked in above, you’ll have no choice but to be conscious of what your decisions support.

I have found this knowledge helps me, as it should, when I find myself zombie-ing near the high street shops, to keep avoid any temptations from seductive wooly sweaters, as I know, without accreditation for being an eco and ethical brand, that wool is 99.9% likely to have come from an abused (or murdered) animal, processed by an abused human, bathed in chemical dyes, then sold by a shit company for personal profits.

That’s not a story I want held close to my skin.

So what to do? 

It’s pretty simple, I’d say, quite honestly, to try to stick to Alpaca and make sure it comes from a reliable source (you've gotta drop the fast fashion buys). 

When it comes to wool, look for a loved up transparent label. A brand that at least claims to be ethical and ecological (I’m not talking about H&M and the other greenwashers like them here, I’m talking about genuine humans who run a genuine business because they genuinely want to change the world).

It is almost impossible to maintain ethical wool, or ethical anything for that matter, in situations of mass production (what you’ll find in the malls and on the high street). To be sustainable, sheep must be native breeds on home soils from small farms who treat their heard like family.

Sounds cheesy, I know, but for eff sakes, it's the only thing you can do to ensure you're not wearing abuse or murder on your skin.

I haven't even touched on the inhumane human labour that comes after the sheep's are abused, nor the chemical dyes which seep into your pores as you sweat in your wool. We'll dave that for another story. 

Buying “British wool” or “American wool” doesn't even bring you safety as both these labels permit 50% of wool to be imported and tracing the wool back to a specific flock isn't part of their legal responsibilities.  

I had a good hard search for knitwear  brands I’d recommend are as follows: 

FINISTERRE Finisterre's wool is supplied by the same farm, Devon Fine Fibres, where I got my cashmere from (you can read about how much I love this farm here). Finisterre has built this herd of endangered Bowmont sheep which came from an incredibly loving home. You can read more about the beautiful story behind Finisterre here

IZZY LANE Isobel Davis rescued a herd of 500 rare-bred sheep from slaughter for her label, and has been producing knitwear from this loved up herd since. Her clothing and knitwear is made local to the farm which keeps the Izzy Lane sheep by neighbouring craftsmen - the last worsted spinners and dyers in the Brandford area. The cloth is woven at an ancient mill in Selkirk using Victorian machinery that has been operating for over a hundred years. You can see Izzy Lane's collections here

TWIGS & WOOL Sustainable Baltimore based brand who sources their organic wool from a small family owned and operated farm in Maine, which is dyed with organic dye. I'm wearing the snood I was gifted by them in these photos, I've since donated the snood to one of the women who was amongst the Sudanese refugees who were living under the bridge near my home. You can see their lovely handmade collection here.

BRUNELLO CUCINELLI lives by his own mantra that 'profit can be sought without damaging mankind' and produces his entire collection ethically and sustainably. Brunello Cucinelli's designs are made by talented craftspeople who live in a sustainable village in Umbria, Italy, which Brunello Cucinelli himself has donated his money towards restoring and renvoating. He produces his knitwear with ethically sourced wool and pure cashmere, sourced locally. You can see his collection here.

VINTAGE Cotton Knit Sweater
TOM'S Traveler Sunglasses (bought second hand on ebay)

photos (unedited): Shane Woodward