How do we know wool is ethical?
This week I have been asked that question by New York Knitwear Designer, Jennifer Raish.
Jennifer is a pioneer in the new industrial revolution which is about niche produced quality items distributed internationally and sold digitally. Jennifer wants to know that she is providing her customers with ethically produced goods and her customers want to trust her. As the world moves rapidly towards digitally shared information and niche markets customers want to know more about who made their thing. These customers want to feel special about their purchase.
Jennifer’s fantastic things are on Etsy.. you should take a look… www.etsy.com/shop/rosetung
Quality, Niche, Personalised & Exclusive have replaced Average, Mass, Standard and Boring.
This is how things are from now on, if you own a large factory you need to think long and hard about this and who will be your customers in 5 years from now.
Jennifer is not alone in her quest to create a wonderful special and woolly experience for her customers. I have also been discussing all things wool and ethical with Katrin who runs another on-line experience www.woolandfelt.co.uk. As the name suggests Katrin sells 100% natural wool and felt.
This is something I had been searching for a while as craft shops often only sell sheets of polyester pretending to be felt (Felt must be made of wool but often other products are marketed as felt) So I was delighted when Katrin made contact.
I asked Katrin to comment on why its important that her wool is ethically produced.
“My customers ask where the wool fibre we sell comes from, I ask the suppliers where the wool fibre they sell to us comes from… this is important because it makes us all more aware that it really matters in today’s world, we want to know and want to make informed choices.”
“One of the suppliers makes it easy, they sell only certified organic felt, guaranteed free from harmful substances and from organically kept sheep. She and her husband also dye the felt with natural dyes and create 15 different shades of colours. What never ceases to amaze me, is, that you can combine any of these colours you like and they never clash, they always harmonise…”
“Making your own felt is extremely satisfying. You can play about with the texture of wool and the colours and you get your hands really soapy and everything is a bit messy, just like being a child again but nobody can really tell you off when you are an adult in your own home.The results are often a surprise, the product evolves as you go along and you go along with it. I would call the process therapeutic.”
So why did Katrin decide to start an online shop (www.woolandfelt.co.uk) selling pure wool felt?
“Because I believe in the product wool, the sustainability of it, it’s wonderful properties which you will not find in fibre created from petrol-chemicals, it’s ability to self cleanse ( woollen sweaters after a heavy days work indeed just need to be aired for some time and any smells that might have clung to them will evaporate). These days it is ever harder to find pure wool products because people are after easy to care for items. But in many ways woollen products are just that, they are water repellent, dirt resistant, fire resistant and harmonising when it comes to temperature. I for one do hope that wool will celebrate a huge come back, and I am not just saying that as a store owner. It will help the UK farmers as well, who until recently could not even pay the sheep shearer with the money they received for the fleeces that came off their sheep’s backs!”
Back to ethics
Both Jennifer and Katrin are on a mission to provide an authentic experience with wool. And both have concerns about where the wool comes from, is it truly ethical? Do the sheep suffer?
If it is New Zealand wool then readers of this blog will know that the Kiwi farmers really care for and nurture their sheep. Organisations like PETA have highlighted the practice of mulesing as cruelty to animals. PETA are a little bit naughty with their tactics, and like any extremist organisation they tend to only show the facts that work in their favour. The truth is often inconvenient. In saying that we need pressure groups to do exactly that, create pressure so that things do always improve.
The new pressure group is the customer, if they don’t trust the product they simply won’t buy it.
Mulesing is illegal in New Zealand unless it is done to help an animal that is deformed in some way. Even then it must be carried out by a vet and using anesthetic It is extremely uncommon for a sheep in New Zealand to be mulesed, it probably does not happen at all but it is technically legal under extreme circumstances for the good of the animal.
The practice is common in Australia as the climate is much hotter and the risk of fly strike much higher. Australian sheep are mainly Merinos which have been bred to have folds in their skin, This increases the surface area for growing wool, and is a real problem if you are a sheep. But NZ sheep do not have this issue. It is considered by Australian farmers to be kinder to mules a sheep than to let it have a painful slow death via fly strike. Also the Aussie growers are spending millions on research and development to find alternative methods of protecting sheep from fly strike.
New Zealand farmers do not mules sheep as it not required due to the cooler climate and different sheep breeds.
In the marketing of lovely ethical woolly things we tend not to talk about negative stuff, but we also must be completely transparent and open if our customers are to trust what we make for them.
Go and take a peek at Jennifer and Katrins wonderful stuff, Click the pretty pictures above to see their on-line stores.
Oh and one last thing. MERRY CHRISTMAS! Go an buy an ethical present for someone you love.