Christmas is coming and woolly gifts are an easy, go-to option for all the family. It’s usually socks for dad, a scarf for mum and maybe a bobble hat for your sister?
But before you pile the presents into your shopping basket, think again. Wool has a damaging effect on the planet and is not sustainable, according to a new report released this week.
Far from being a gift from nature, the material is a product of industrial, chemical, ecological and genetic intervention, the study finds. Instead, you are better off buying recycled/regenerative wool or organic cotton, which is grown without pesticides and is a biodegradable fibre.
A result of a collaboration between the US-based Centre for Biological Diversity and Australian NGO Collective Fashion Justice, this research looks into why wool production is a key contributor to biodiversity loss and climate change.
Wool uses up precious land resources
Sheep’s wool is five times worse than conventionally grown cotton and three times worse than acrylic when it comes to climate impact. Wool uses 367 times more land per bale than cotton, and the chemically intensive process of cleaning sheared wool also kills aquatic life and pollutes waterways.
“The industry has been pulling the wool over our eyes for decades, claiming that wool is a sustainable fibre,” says Stephanie Feldstein, population and sustainability director at the Centre for Biological Diversity and co-author of the report.
“Wool clothing comes with a heavy price tag of greenhouse gas emissions, land use, biodiversity loss and pollution.”
As with other forms of animal agriculture, raising sheep for wool uses up precious resources. Land is cleared and trees are cut down to make room for grazing, leading to increased soil erosion and a reduction in biodiversity.
Sheep, like cows, also release huge amounts of methane into the atmosphere, a harmful greenhouse gas which traps heat in the atmosphere and contributes to climate change.
“Sheep grazing pastureland may seem innocent and natural, but sheep are introduced, bred and eventually slaughtered while the grazed lands are degraded and prevented from thriving,” explains Emma Hakansson, Collective Fashion Justice founding director and co-author of the report.
“There’s nothing natural about this inefficient, unsustainable and exploitative industry.”
Consumers wrongly assume wool is eco-friendly
The report also found that despite the pollution from slaughter, chemicals used in scouring, habitat destruction, and greenhouse gas emissions associated with wool, 87 per cent of consumers perceive it as “safe for [the] environment.”
In an analysis by Collective Fashion Justice of 50 top brands using ‘sustainability’ terms to market their wool products, only 28 per cent backed up the claim with any kind of reference.
“We need to have an honest discussion about wool’s outsized impact on biodiversity loss and climate change and transition to plant-derived and high-tech innovative materials that don’t take such a big toll on native species and the climate,” says Joshua Katcher, founder of the CIRCUMFAUNA initiative and co-author of the report.
The Centre for Biological Diversity and Collective Fashion Justice are calling on fashion industry associations, brands and designers to commit to phasing out or reducing wool use by at least 50 per cent by 2025.
This would support material innovation and also embrace alternatives that do not depend on fossil fuel-derived fibres (such as acrylic, polyester and nylon).
Here are some sustainable cotton alternatives to your woolly favourites
The Organic Cotton Chunky Beanie, €45, Everlane
This chunky beanie hat features an extra-thick knit, a cuffed brim, and is a snug, unisex fit. The best part? It’s made of 100 per cent organic cotton with a touch of stretch, which makes it comfy, cosy, and as warm as can be.
This beanie is certified organic from seed to finished product.
The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certification takes over a year to account for every step of production - from the processing of certified organic fibre into yarn to dyehouses, mills, factories, and printers.
Recycled cashmere gloves, €77, Pangaia
These versatile and thermo-regulating Recycled Cashmere gloves are a cosy gift for any loved one this Christmas.
Because Recycled Cashmere is such a delicate natural fibre, it’s sometimes prone to bobbling or pilling after wear.
But pilling can easily be removed by running a pilling comb over the area and will lessen over time after a few hand washes.
Organic Cotton heavy weight scarf, €42, Tessa Herringbone - Thought
This gorgeous organic cotton scarf proves you don’t need to buy wool for that heavy-weight feeling.
It’s made from recycled acrylic and GOTS certified organic cotton and sewn in a small family run GOTS certified factory in India
This scarf is perfect for wrapping up and keeping you cosy in colder months - it's warm and fluffy without the dreaded wool itch too.
Classic organic crew in emerald green, €60, Colorful Standard
This 100 per cent organic cotton crewneck jumper is a perfect Christmas gift for the men in your life.
With its dense knit, smooth feel, and clean look, you’ll never want to take it off.
Not only is it sewn from organic cotton, it’s also made with environmentally friendly dye (Oeko-Tex®), PETA Approved Vegan, anti-pilling and made in Portugal.
Enda Regenerative Wool Sweater, €87, Reformation
The Enda is an easy fit, crew neck, long sleeve sweater featuring rib trims. It's soft and stretchy for an extra comfortable feel.
This sweater is made with 100 per cent traceable NATIVA™️ wool sourced from a transitional regenerative farm.
Regenerative practices are different from conventional methods, so it takes a lot of time, effort, and resources to make the switch.