Herd United Kingdom
WORDS
REPORTING
TAG
BROWSING
SHARE
Facebook
WhatsApp
Pinterest
LinkedIn
Email
Twitter

Wool can be circular and environmentally-friendly, but only if processed with care

«The British wool industry has been neglected in the past fifty years, but it used to be a business in the past»: Ruth Rands is revamping the wool industry in UK

Wool washed with organic detergent in UK

Wool is a sustainable fabric in itself if producers do not add any synthetic fibers to the garments and responsibly wash the fleeces, but the issue from an environmental point of view, starts from the animals; sheep emit around 20-30 liters of methane per day, which has become a problem in countries like New Zealand, which is one of the biggest wool exporters with around 45 million sheep; this means that half of the nation’s overall greenhouse gas emissions come from sheep. Producing wool also requires a high amount of water—not only to raise and take care of the animals but also to wash the raw wool of lanolin and impurities. It takes approximately 500,000 liters of water to manufacture a metric ton of wool. On top of this, fleece is often washed with chemical soaps through a super-wash treatment, also known as chlorine-Hercosett process. This method guarantees the felt-free super-wash standard and works based on chlorination and subsequent coating of the fiber material with a polyaminoamide. The process, which wastes huge amounts of water as well as dangerous substances, leads to significant pollution of wastewater with organic halogen compounds. For approximately 1200 tons of Superwash quality wool produced per year, this process consumes environmentally dangerous substances, such as sodium hypochlorite, sulphuric acid, wetting agent, defoamers and approximately 75% of all super-wash wool is produced using this method. 

Lampoon reporting: The British wool industry

Wool is a well-known material in the fashion industry and also one of the oldest. From the environmental point of view, wool has many sustainable attributes: it is renewable, biodegrades in the soil, it’s recyclable, and can be organically produced. To be considered sustainable, wool has to be sourced and processed responsibly, taking synthetic and toxic products out of the process and taking care of animals’ welfare. This is the mission behind Herd, a British brand that sources fleeces collectively from Lancashire and Yorkshire, and «doesn’t use anything toxic to clean or dye the wool, so it is completely natural, which makes it fully circular» as Ruth Rands, founder of Herd states. «The British wool industry has been neglected in the past fifty years, but it used to be a prosperous business in the past», explains Rands, «with the introduction of synthetic fabrics in the Sixties, brands changed their approach, and many manufacturing factories moved offshore to Australia, China, and New Zealand. For this reason, the wool industry in England lost much of its’ investment and farmers began to regard the wool as merely a by-product rather than a valuable asset. ». Some of the issues facing the British Wool Industry is there are relatively few brands championing British wool, that British sheep farms are relatively small in scale and there is a variety of breeds rather than a single breed like merino that can be commoditized. As the industry investment fell farmers, producers and customers stopped talking about the qualities of the different native breeds and so their value continued to fall. As Rands notes however, there is now a wellspring of independent brands focussing on sustainability for whom high-quality British wool is very appealing, which could create a new market for jnkljifarmers.

The high carbon footprint behind wool production is – in part – due to a complex and lengthy supply chain and the transportation between each part of it; wool is grown in one country (NZ, Australia), shipped to another – often China – to be scoured then to Italy to be spun and then onto the final destination country to be knitted – which amounts to over 17,000 miles. There are other ways to wash the fleece that don’t involve any chemicals or toxins: «to turn it into wool, our fleeces are washed in the UK with organic detergent to draw out the oil, which is then sold on for use in lanolin balms and cosmetics. The soapy water is then recycled while the fluffy fleeces are blown through huge pipes. The waste wool from these processes is sold on to be used in the furniture industry or as a fertilizer», explains Rands. «The soapy water is cleaned and released or reused: it is a no-waste process from the beginning to the end».

Herd is using the finest wool from the North West of England

Taking synthetic and toxic products out of the wool dyeing process

Another sore subject when it comes to sustainable wool production concerns dyeing and mordants. In the textile industry, up to 200,000 tons of dyes are lost to effluents every year during the dyeing and finishing operations because of the inefficiency of the dyeing process and persist in the environment. In addition, antimicrobial agents resistant to biological degradation are frequently used to manufacture textiles, particularly for natural fibers like wool and cotton. The dyes used to dye synthetic fibers are also toxic to humans, causing a range of hazardous conditions to workers such as cancer and lung diseases. During recent years, many researchers studied how to develop natural dyes and mordants for wool fibers, and, as Rands explains, «synthetic dyes are made from petrochemicals, which take millions of years to decompose. We are working on a way of natural dyeing at scale, and we also have a range of undyed knitwear». Talking about softeners and mordants, Rands explains, «we use potassium alum and cream of tartar, which are natural and biodegradable and can be easily found in any kitchen; taking synthetic and toxic products out of the process, garments can biodegrade and will nourish the soil at the end of their life since these substances are beneficial for the soil». Being an industry that relies on sheep to produce the raw fabric, animal welfare is a hot topic for the wool market; PETA, the American nonprofit animal rights organization, has released 12 exposés of 100 sheep operations on four continents, revealing systemic abuse in the wool industry and, on top of this, found out that when the animals are no longer profitable to the wool industry, they’re slaughtered. «As for now, we only work with Bluefaced Leicester sheeps», states Rands when asked about animal welfare. «They are kept by farmers in the North-West to breed with hill ewes to make strong, healthy lambs well suited to the landscape and climate».

Regenerative wool certification

Considering the animal welfare aspect, it can be easy to think that synthetic fibers are a good alternative to assure no sheep is mistreated or abused to make wool. Still, the cost for the environment could become even higher: synthetic fibers are made from non-renewing, non-degrading petrochemicals which are extracted in extremely damaging and polluting ways. Then, if they are not recycled, they take many years to decompose and they do so in a toxic rather than a beneficial way. «One of our primary focuses at the moment is being certified as a regenerative wool brand; this means the wool is sequestering more CO2 than releasing it to the atmosphere. It’s even better than being carbon neutral, it means we are not simply not damaging the environment, but we are improving it», explains Rands. Because of these reasons and the risks to the environment and animal welfare, the wool industry has been under scrutiny in the last years, both from animal rights activists, environmentalists, and consumers who became more concerned about the environment and more conscious about eco-friendly processes. «In order to assure circularity, there are two steps to focus on: first, the design since garments have to last as long as possible. On the other hand, we need to take synthetic fibers and chemicals out of the process so that garments can degrade in the soil at the end of their life».

Ruth Rands 

Is the founder at Herd, a UK-based brand that produces sustainable heritage knitwear using the finest wool from the North West of England, to revive & re-energize the traditions of sheep farming for wool in England, and to do so locally & naturally. 

The writer does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article.

check and buy on Prototipo Store
item collections in limited edition
crafted according to our editorial search

Hemp / made in Italy
Lampoon is working to restore Hemp production in Italy
as hemp is the one and only natural vegetal fiber sourceable in the country
for more info, please email us

check and buy on Prototipo Store
item collections in limited edition
crafted according to our editorial search

Hemp / made in Italy
Lampoon is working to restore
Hemp production in Italy
as hemp is the one and only
natural vegetal fiber sourceable in the country
for more info, please email us at [email protected]

SHARE
Facebook
LinkedIn
Pinterest
Email
WhatsApp
Twitter