We love working with recycled materials. Recycled wool is one of our favourites: we use it mainly in sweaters, cardigans and knitwear to create high-quality styles with a good environmental profile. In this article, we take a look at the pros and cons of recycled wool before revealing 5 of the most interesting recycled wool facts that even we didn’t know before digging deeper!
How Sustainable Is Recycled Wool?
Several Life Cycle Assessments (LCA) have measured the sustainability of recycled wool. LCAs are detailed studies that weigh up the environmental impacts of a given material, which makes them useful, if highly specific, barometers of change. One 2022 study finds that “for all the analyzed indicators, impacts of recycled fibers are about 60% less than impacts of virgin wool fibers.” This covers ecological effects like “climate change”, “acidification” and “water use”. However, as acknowledged here, one of the shortcomings of LCAs is that they don’t generally consider the lifespan of a garment, which may be longer for virgin wool styles.
Academic debates aside, you have a durable material that is being reused instead of wasted - which can’t be a bad thing! Not only does recycled wool prevent perfectly usable wool textiles from winding up in landfill, it also cuts out the greenhouse gas emissions that sheep produce.
We think that sustainable fashion and recycled wool are perfect allies. This is because recycled materials encourage a conscious use of resources, and take us beyond the linear model of fashion - described as “take”, “make” and “waste”.
Here are five quick facts to get you grounded in the world of recycled wool!
1. Wool recycling has a “shoddy” history
The recycling of wool has a longer history than might be imagined. It’s not a shiny new material that has taken the fashion industry by storm! Instead, it actually stretches as far back as the English Victorian era (c. 18-19th century). Frugal factory owners took used wool clothing and rags and cut them into smaller chunks which was then blended with some virgin (new) wool and respun into a lower quality fabric called “shoddy”. Shoddy wool was used for cheap soldiers' outfits and may have been sold to plantation owners to be worn principally by slaves. The recycled wool industry of today bears no resemblance to that of the 18th century: both the quality of the wool and the equality of society at large has improved. Recycled wool has shed its “shoddy” reputation!
2. Recycled wool comes in diverse textures
Did you know that “wool” isn’t unique to sheep? There are many different types of wool out there, from camel, to alpaca, to rabbit! Wool can be defined as “soft, thick hair” that grows on these animals.
In keeping with the diversity of wool, we also make recycled wool styles that have different textures, largely due to the composition of each yarn. Take our Kalymnos sweater, combining recycled wool with recycled polyester to create a soft tweed texture. For a premium feeling, we created the Matahiva, which is made with a small percentage of recycled cashmere. But if it’s a gentler touch you’re after, we’d recommend the pale blue Miskitos, which is made with 36% recycled cotton. If you have a taste for chic vintage, check out our Kaula cardigan - made with a gorgeous jacquard print and a mix of recycled wool and recycled polyamide.
Recycled wool is not just confined to womenswear! Men should check out our sea-inspired Lagzira knit for a truly timeless style with a low environmental impact. Multi-coloured neps take this garment to the next level.
3. Wool is both afraid of water and attracts it!
As noted by Each One Unique, the outer layer of wool fibre is “hydrophobic” - literally meaning: afraid of water - and the inner layer is “hygroscopic” - literally meaning, attracting water. This woolly contradiction isn’t for nothing: in the wild, it helps animals to stay relatively dry while soaking up any of the water that does seep through to the inner layer of their coat.
Your recycled wool garments will mimic this - though the level of its hydrophobic and hygroscopic properties will depend on the percentage of wool that the garment is made up of.
4. Italy is a leading producer of recycled wool
When scouring the internet for information about recycled wool, one place name comes up more than any other. Prato, Italy. Famed for high-quality recycled wool, this tiny village in Tuscany is a hub for companies like Millefili - who supply us with many of our mixed-fibre yarns. A modest 142 million kilos of material was recycled in Prato in 2017! Different companies in Prato take care of different processes: from the shredding and sorting of scraps to the dyeing and weaving. It’s a cooperative process that has given the town a vibrant reputation for quality. As the BBC reported in this video, “recycling wool is great for the environment.” One industry expert pointed out that recycled wool also reduces harm to animals.
5. Your wool fleece stores carbon
The IWTO (International Wool Textile Organisation) has put out this attractive statistic: “50% of the weight of clean wool is pure biogenic carbon.” They’re referring to wool’s ability to absorb carbon dioxide while it’s still on the sheep’s body, which is good news for the climate - wool could effectively help us to offset human-made emissions!
However, this has to be seen in a holistic context. For it to make any difference, regenerative farming practices should be in place to ensure that grasslands and environments are not degraded by livestock farming. See this video for an interesting example. The IWTO says, “Responsible practices can increase the level of carbon stored in pastures and soils and make a positive contribution to mitigating climate change”.