Why fish love wool – and why cyclists do too!

It will come as no surprise if I state here how much we love wool. Part of our love for this material stems from all those wonderful, natural properties that make it such a great choice for performance wear: soft, breathable, odor resistant, excels at regulating body temperature and will keep you warm even when wet.

But our love would be too shallow if we fancied wool only for its good looks and its aptitude for athletics. This wonder-material appeals, not only to our bodies, but also to our (eco)minds.

Being a natural fiber, wool is a renewable resource and, unlike synthetics, does not require heavy processing for manufacturing or petroleum as a raw material. The most compelling facts about wool, though, come up when you consider the whole life cycle of your garments: 75% of our clothing’s lifecycle impact comes from the actual use phase, with washing and especially machine drying being the highest impact contributors. Because of the antibacterial properties of lanolin, wool garments require much less washing than synthetics or any other textile. They are best cared for when hand washed in cold water, with little soap and air-dried, making wool the lowest impact garment in the ‘washing + care’ cycle; the cycle which leaves the deepest footprint on our planet.

Now, you may be thinking that our love is blind, that we are trying to pull the ____ over your eyes (clever you are!) and not telling you the whole truth about the object of our affection. Let’s set the record straight: the production of some wool, just as the production of any other material, can and does also have its imperfections and flaws. The reality, however, is that there is no single textile fibre today that comes at no cost to the environment, and that when fiber production is considered as an isolated process, no textile material can be qualified as remotely “sustainable”. What’s important is to start with what’s very good, and find ways to leverage it into being great. A more wholistic view of the garment manufacturing industry, shows that wool production, when done right, has inherent advantages over the production of any other synthetic or natural fiber.

“Wool could, in theory, be made with virtually hardly any negative impacts. It grows on rain water and grass, and is a by-product of meat-, milk- and lanolin-production. Wool aids landscaping. By replacing pesticides and process-chemicals with those proven to be compatible with nature, animal and human health, by ensuring clean waste-water and using renewable energy both for farming and processing.”

As for the negatives? There is no law saying wool production has to be done carelessly or harmfully, it has room to improve, but with synthetics, there is no getting away from the harms of oil and plastics.

With so much going on for wool, it’s little wonder to find out that we are not its only Valentine admirers: According to a recent article in the journal of Environmental Science and Technology, microscopic plastic debris that can be traced back to washing synthetic clothes is accumulating in our oceans, and could be already entering the food chain. Not that fish are in need of jerseys, with the temperatures of our oceans raising almost by the minute, due to anthropogenic accelerated climate change (“global warming”). But, if fish did need a jersey, I’m sure they would also choose to cozy up in style with a wool one – just as we do.


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