• Szilvia Burrows

Why choose wool

A little insight into the characteristics of this wonderful fibre.

Slowly but surely more and more influential brands and companies discover the benefits of one of the oldest and most natural fibres’ benefits: Wool.



I investigated this brilliant material when I was at university. I was intrigued by sportswear fabrics and advanced textiles for health and wellbeing in general and my research quickly pointed to wool. At the time I was working on and developing my own sportswear fabrics, all handmade on a vintage 10gg hand operated, industrial knitting machine. During this 3 years in university I’ve discovered my love for knitwear and knitted fabrics so when the time came to create my graduate collection I felt strongly about making them by hand as opposed to outsourcing as well as bringing the sustainability aspect to it. Furthermore, during the research for my final collection as well as my dissertation, I found that wool is an underappreciated fibre.

All garments in my final collection feature a sportswear element; breathability, durability, and thermal insulation and most of all include Extrafine Merino Wool. You can take a look at my graduate collection, Performance Luxe here.

When I started setting my business up and going through several detailed research regarding the market or building my brand ethos, etc; I instantly knew that if I’m going to handcraft and hand finish all of my products and therefore spend a great time with the making process, the material had to be the best and highest quality too. I already knew I loved working with wool and now the next steps were clear without a question.


There are so many plastic fibres available to us at today’s market, pure ‘plastic’ fibres and blends as well. Nowadays when you go to a high street shop and look at the tags of the garments, I guarantee you the majority of the fibre content of it is polyester, acrylic and other man-made fibres. Of course, they have their own aesthetics, several printing methods etc are working extremely well with polyester and elastane, etc creating beautiful aesthetics, and most importantly the main reason being they are so widely available to us and constantly present in the current market is: price. We all know there is a huge difference in the price when it comes to a polyester fibre and for example silk or cashmere. I guess big brands cannot compromise on this.


Black nose sheep, picture credit: Als Couzens

Wool’s glorious natural benefits:

Wool is of course 100% naturally grown year-round consuming a simple blend of water, air, sunshine, and grass.


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Wool is a protein based fibre made of keratin, just like human hair, formed in the skin of sheep, therefore 100% natural. Using wool is dating back to the Stone Age and it has been appreciated as one of the most effective varieties of all-weather protection known to man. No other fibre come close to match wool’s unique properties to this date.


Picture credit: Sue Curliss, Sugar Gum Farm

Apart from being natural, wool has many other benefits too.

Wool is 100% biodegradable. When a wool fibre is disposed of, it will naturally decompose in soil in a matter of years, slowly releasing valuable nutrients back into the earth. Plastic fibres can take up to 1000 years to decompose. This of course depends on the type of plastic it is, nevertheless, it is dreadful to the environment.

Wool facts sheet
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Wool is the most reused and recycled fibre, even though wool represents only 1.2% of the virgin fibre supply, surveys have shown it represents about 5% of clothing donated to charity. Wool is also one of the most sought after recycled textiles for converting into new long-lasting products, such as garments, mattresses, and upholstery, rugs etc.

In recent years we see an uproar and visible mending and invisible mending became a popular way to upcycle garments and to extend the life of your beloved knitwear.

Wool is a 100% renewable fibre, As long as there is grass to graze on, sheep will produce a new fleece every year, making wool a renewable fibre source. Woolgrowers actively work to safeguard the environment and improve efficiency, endeavouring to make the wool industry sustainable for future generations. Transparency, footprint, and sheep welfare is another important topic to mention here.


Picture credit: Little Beau Sheet

Transparency: I am proud to be using one the world’s leader in wool production and spinner companies and confident that the journey of my materials are fully traceable and sustainable. I only use and work with companies who can produce a Sustainability report annually.


Sheep welfare: Sheep farmers take their job with pride and very seriously.

Stress can affect reproductive function, wool growth.

Every single wool growing country has its own legally binding animal welfare legislation. More than 500 companies working in wool, representing more than one million people employed by the industry, having declared their commitment to the highest standards of welfare by signing the Dumfries House Declaration of September 2016. This Declaration sets forth the principles of best practice in the wool industry.


As the global authority for animal welfare, the OIE (World Organization for Animal Health) has defined its “Five Freedoms” for the care of animals which are recognised internationally and every single wool grower must comply with it along with signing the Dumfries House Declaration of September 2016 :


1. Freedom from hunger, malnutrition, and thirst

2. Freedom from fear and distress

3. Freedom from physical and thermal discomfort

4. Freedom from pain, injury, and disease

5. Freedom to express normal patterns of behaviour


You can download The IWTO Guidelines for Wool Sheep Welfare below, you can also read about the shearing process on the below link. Please note, sheep needs to be sheared. Experienced and qualified shearers can shear sheep safely and efficiently.


IWTO-Sheep-Welfare-Guidelines_2013
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shearing
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Wool is naturally elastic. At microscopic level, every Merino wool fibre has a crimped structure and is like a coiled spring that returns to its natural shape and springs back after being bent or pulled. This gives Merino wool garments a natural elasticity and resistance to wrinkles. Wool garments can also stretch comfortably with the wearer but are then able to return to their natural shape, making them resistant to wrinkling. Wool therefore maintains its appearance in the longer term, adding value to the product and its lifespan. Wool fibres endure tearing and can be bent back on themselves over 20,000 times without breaking.


We know Merino wool is naturally elastic and by different applications and design process we can enhance this property even further. For example, a woollen woven fabric is more suitable for suits whereas knitted woollen garments are perfect for everyday garments and clothing and/ or sportswear. The structure of the woven and knitted fabric are different which gives us a true variety and freedom on how we want to process wool and what is the desired outcome.



This point overlaps with the next one:

Wool and Innovation

Fashion designers and activewear brands can choose from a range of innovative treatments and manufacturing techniques to create unique textures and finishes on Merino wool garments. Wool is becoming more and more widely used by sportswear brands.


Wool and odour. Wool is far more efficient than other textiles at absorbing sweat and releasing it into the air before bacteria has a chance to develop and produce unpleasant body odour. Other fabrics and garments such as synthetics can become smelly after a workout or general wear, whereas wool absorbs the odour molecules from sweat, which are only released upon washing.


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Naturally breathable

Merino wool is one of the most breathable fibres. Wool fibres can absorb large quantities of moisture vapour then move it away to evaporate into the air, making Merino Wool garments (and accessories for that matter) are extremely comfortable.


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Soft and safe

Merino wool fibres are extremely fine, allowing them to bend far more than traditional, coarser wool fibres. This makes Merino wool feel soft and luxuriously gentle and soft next to your skin. Wool is also naturally safe. It is not known to cause allergies and does not promote the growth of bacteria and in fact it’s beneficial to eczema sufferers. You can read more about this here.


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All year around luxury and UV protection

‘Wool is a hygroscopic fibre. As the humidity of the surrounding air rises and falls, the fibre absorbs and releases water vapour. Heat is generated and retained during the absorption phase, which makes wool a natural insulator. Used in the home, wool insulation helps to reduce energy costs and prevents the loss of energy to the external environment, thus reducing carbon emissions.’


Credits to its hygroscopic abilities, wool continuously reacts to alterations in body temperature, retaining its wearer’s thermophysical comfort in both cold and warm weather, making wool the perfect garment choice all year around.

Thanks to its high water and nitrogen content, wool is naturally flame-retardant, and has a far higher ignition threshold than many other fibres, wool will not melt and stick to the skin causing burns, and produces less noxious fumes that cause death in fire situations. Furthermore, wool also has a naturally high level of UV protection, which is significantly higher than most synthetics and/or cotton, Merino wool clothing therefore provides good protection from the sun.


As a natural fibre, evolved over millions of years to protect sheep against nature's variety of elements, Merino wool absorbs UV radiation providing protection from the sun. This makes it a brilliant choice for a wide range of outdoor activities and exercise.


All year around protection from nature's elements, Picture credit: The Herdwick Photographer

Fire resistant

'Wool’s inherent chemical structure makes wool naturally flame resistant. It is a highly trusted natural fibre in public areas such as hotels, aircraft, hospitals, and theatres. Whilst cotton catches alight at 255°C, the temperature must reach 570-600°C before wool will ignite; while polyester melts at 252-292°C and nylon succumbs at an even lower 160-260°C, wool never melts so it can’t stick to the skin like many common synthetics.'

Sustainability

Wool garments are amongst the longest kept in the wardrobe, are washed less frequently because it can be aired and tend to live on through re-sale or change of ownership.

For safely storing your knitwear and for sustainable washing intructions, please read my other guides here. We arrive in one of the earliest points made: invisible and visible mending. The life of your woollen garment can be even further extended by repairing or upcycling it.

The natural, protective waxy coating on wool fibres makes wool products resistant to staining and they also pick up less dust as wool is naturally anti-static, which contributes to the ‘easy care’ properties of wool. Many wool products can also be machine washed and tumble dried too without having to hand wash them all the time. For machine washing and tumble drying please look for the Woolmark approved machines and models.


wool footprint
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I hope you enjoyed this short blog about my favourite material: wool.


Stay safe.


Until next time,

Szilvi