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Have You Any Wool?

You don’t need three bags full to make a difference in environmental and personal health when you choose wool garments.

| November/December 2019

Photo by Getty Images/Ridofranz

When it comes to sustainability, what you wear makes a difference. In decades past, clothing was meant to last for more than a few seasons, but today’s era of fast fashion means we now buy more clothes per capita and keep each item for half as long as we did in the 1990s — and fashion wasn’t exactly “slow” then. This generates a tremendous amount of global waste, as the clothing industry accounts for 5 to 10 percent of global emissions and about 20 percent of wastewater production.

So, what’s the solution? Besides buying used clothing when possible, and less of it overall, you can invest in sustainable fibers that leave a lighter mark on the planet. Wool is a fiber that’s been used for millennia, and there’s a strong argument from an environmental perspective to keep it in your wardrobe. Let’s look at the facts behind wool and explore why it makes sense as a zero-waste basic.

Wool 101

Wool is the natural fiber produced by sheep. It grows in wavy locks, known as “staples,” all over their bodies. These fibers are primarily composed of protein, with small amounts of fat, calcium, and sodium, and they’re made of scales that cause the fibers to cling more tightly together when exposed to heat and water.

As wool grows longer, its crimped pattern becomes more obvious, especially in finer fibers. The crimp within these staples adds elasticity, and the wool becomes coated in lanolin, a natural grease that’s removed during processing, but that can be used in skin and hair care products. The curly fibers trap air and create an insulating layer that gives wool its cozy qualities. While different breeds grow wool at different rates, most sheep raised for wool production are shorn at least once a year, and each animal can produce 2 to 30 pounds of wool annually.

Photo by Adobe Stock/Steve Lovegrove

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