By Roxy Rowton
Sheep have a remarkable tale to narrate about the fleece that covers their backs. One of nature’s genuinely sustainable and original performance fibers, wool is renewable, breathable, biodegradable, reusable and recyclable. Somewhere between the mass production of the textile industry and the demand for fast fashion, wool garments have largely become replaced with synthetic alternatives.
However, the international wool industry’s determination to reinforce wool’s credentials as a leading sustainable fiber is reconnecting consumers to its extraordinary benefits.
Today, fashion designers and sheep farmers around the globe collaborate with textile manufacturers to produce luxurious wool garments and reacquaint fashionistas and pragmatics with the natural benefits of choosing wool.
Wool – A Natural Fiber
Wool is a natural fiber grown from sheep. The sheep’s fleece protects the animals from the extreme elements of nature because of its insulating and cooling properties. Every year, sheep grow new fleece, making wool a completely renewable resource. Wool fibers are composed of natural protein called keratin, very similar to hair on a human scalp, but three times finer. A simple blend of natural ingredients, such as water, air, grass and sunshine, ensure the renewal process of the sheep’s fleece. Unlike synthetic fibers, wool fibers illustrate the basic fundamental of nature’s ability to renew and sustain.
Wool’s story is one of nature’s most extraordinary fibers. Wool is a hygroscopic fiber. It has the capacity to absorb large quantities of moisture, twice as much as cotton and thirty times more than polyester. Because of wool’s capacity to absorb moisture, it is has less propensity to generate static electricity, as well as unpleasant dampness to the skin. Less absorption of moisture also means less sweat remains in contact with the body. It absorbs the odor molecules from sweat and releases the odor molecules only by washing. In contrast to many synthetic fibers, wool aids in the regulation of body temperature by helping the body to stay warm when the temperature is cold and keeping it cool when the temperature is hot.
Wool’s Chemical Structure
Wool’s inherent chemical structure makes it less prone to catching fire and an excellent flame-resistant textile. In fact, it is less susceptible to ignite than most common textiles used in clothing. Wool provides a generous amount of protection from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays, making it a good choice for apparel worn during outdoor activities.
When a wool garment has come to the end of its wear, it can act as organic compost. The garment rapidly decomposes in the soil and acts as a natural fertilizer by releasing nitrogen-rich nutrients back into the soil.
Recent scientific research supports the health and therapeutic benefits of wool textiles. Wool bedding and sleepwear seem to promote a better sleep and soothe some types of skin ailments. A study conducted by the University of Sydney found that wearing wool garments or covering with wool bed linens increases sleep time, fosters sleep onset and improves sleep efficiency. A research team at Queensland Institute of Dermatology has been studying the healing properties of superfine merino wool in the treatment of chronic atopic dermatitis conditions or eczema.
Wool’s journey from the sheep’s fleece covering to the world of fashion involves an intricate chain of wool growers, textile manufacturers and apparel designers. Using century-old techniques and modern technology, wool growers work closely with textile manufacturers to transform fleece into luxurious yarns and textiles. There are two major
manufacturing systems, worsted and woolen. The worsted system uses the longer fibers to produce finer, smoother yarns, which are fabricated into clothing garments, such as suiting, sportswear, socks and jackets. The woolen method uses shorter fibers than the worsted method to fabricate garments with a fuzzy, raised texture, such as lamb’s wool or Shetland sweaters, coats and tweeds.
After the eighteenth century, wool was primarily used in the fabrication of utilitarian garments, such as military uniforms and work wear. In contemporary fashion, wool’s big break came when couturier Madame Coco Chanel brushed aside traditional societal dress codes and designed a dress from wool jersey. Just a few decades later, Christian Dior would lead another fashion revolution with the “New Look,” a design that used excessive yardages of wool.
Today, fashion designers select from a range of advanced techniques and innovative treatments that permit the creation of contemporary trend-setting wool apparel from athletic wear to fine suiting. Wool continues to provide fashion designers with a blank canvas from which to create fashionable but sustainable garments. Consumers are becoming reacquainted with the extraordinary benefits of choosing and wearing wool.
Wardrobe and style consultant Roxy L. Rowton ([email protected]) spends much of her workweek in the closet or the fitting room helping women look and feel their best. She has two-plus decades in the fashion, apparel and beauty industries.