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Animal Friendliness of Wool

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A herd of European merino sheep, photographed during our visit in 2018 to some sheep farmers who supply wool for our fleece wool.

We regularly get  questions about the animal friendliness of the wool we sell. Consumer programs on TV occasionally pay attention to this subject and that usually raises many questions. Questions about this subject are unfortunately quite often very difficult to answer because the wool trade is sometimes still quite opaque. But with this article we try to give some insight to this issue.

Wool production

The wool we use for our clothing, interiors and other applications, for the most part, does not come from our direct environment. Local production in Europe is expensive due to among reasons such as our high wages and increasingly strict environmental legislation. Also the quality (fineness) of the Australian merino wool is much better than that of most European sheep breeds. The result is that wool production and processing has virtually disappeared from the Netherlands. This also applies to many other European countries. The world production of wool is largely concentrated in Australia. In addition, large-scale wool production can also be found in New Zealand, China, South America and South Africa in areas where there is still enough room to keep the unimaginable amount of sheep needed to meet the demand from all over the world. The processing (washing, dyeing, spinning, weaving, knitting) of all this wool is then concentrated again, especially in Malaysia, India and China.

Opaque trade

The wool in the sweater you are wearing has probably seen a lot of the world and has already known a series of middlemen on his long journey. Most of the wool we sell for felting or XXL Big Wool knitting is actually no more than a by-product of the textile industry. The vast majority of yhe worlds wool production goes to the big dyers and textile yarns spinning mill. Only a fraction of the wool is used for felting and other hobby, knitting artistic etc use. Because of the many middlemen, smaller wool vendors like us unfortunately have little insight into the origin of most wool. Thus, with a few exceptions, we do not know where the big traders from whom we buy wool buy their wool excatly. The country of origin is usually known, but it usually stays there. As a result, we can often only say something about the animal friendliness in general terms.

Mulesing

When it comes to animal friendliness, with wool we often refer to the term mulesing. This terms describes the cutting away of skin around the hindquarters of a sheep. This is a method to prevent a frequently deadly infection by sheep (myiasis). Because of their deep skin folds, which are beneficial for a large wool production, especially merino sheep in warmer areas are susceptible to these infections. Mulesing is an effective method to prevent infection, but it is a painful treatment that is often carried out without anaesthetic for cost reasons. Fur for Animals, for example, has a clear story about this on the website. On this page you will also find the famous PETA film about the abuse of sheep in Australia during shaving. However, there is some things to be done about this movie. All things considered, it only shows a few twisted shearers. Many Australian sheep farmers have reported that the method shown is totally unrepresentative and the professionalism of their shearers is seriously inadequate.

In New Zealand, mulesing is legally prohibited with effect from October 2018. There are heavy fines on violation of the ban. In practice, mulesing has been practically no longer applied in this country in recent years. This gives the country a big advantage over their neighbour Australia.
Due to the cooler climate mulesing is not common in South America. Wool from this continent is therefore on the rise for critical consumers. The quality is also excellent, although the fineness is lagging behind what Australian merino sometimes produce.

Other aspects

Besides animal-friendliness, there are also other important things that we should not forget, such as the environmental friendliness of wool and social and economic aspects (fair trade, flight to low wage countries, etc.). Wool is natural, renewable and biodegradable. It has many excellent features. But as with virtually every product that is produced on a large scale, negative aspects also apply to the acquisition and processing of the material. Large herds of sheep are a threat to vegetation in some areas. Animal welfare and fair trade or the use of renewable materials can sometimes get in each other’s way. Often you are faced with difficult choices. To what limit do the benefits outweigh the disadvantages?

The wool we supply- Mulesing-free

On the product pages in our web shop, virtually every type of wool is mentioned whether it is mulesing-free or that we are not sure. Of course we do not sell wool of which we are certain that it is not animal-friendly. When sourcing we always make clear to the potential and existing suppliers that we do not accept mulesing and ask critical questions.
The type of wool of which we sell by far the most, is the 27 micron European Merino Wool Roving from Meervilt! . From this wool we can say with certainty that it is produced in an animal-friendly manner. The sheep are kept by small-scale family businesses that work according to the principles of organic production. However, these companies are not all bio-certified because of the high costs. Therefore we cannot issue certification for the wool. In the spring of 2018 we were visiting some of these sheep farmers. There we could see with our own eyes that they take good care of their animals.
Our 27 micron-dyed South American merino wool is also mulesing-free. Just like some types of undyed fusible wool (001, 463, 505) that also come from this continent. The same applies to the undyed merino 401 and the thinner version 101 from New Zealand.
Also the extra fine 19 micron South American unpainted and dyed merino wool and the beautiful colored blends of this wool and the Australian super fine (16 micron) merino 601 we sell, are delivered by an Italian dyer that has mulesing-free certifications for all Merino wool they supply to us.
All types of the fine merino carded fleece are made of 19 micron merino. The wool used previously came from Australia, but the supplier has succeeded in finding a qualitatively very good South American substitute, which is also available in sufficient quantities. From February 2015 they only buy this wool from South America and manufacture their products with mulesing-free wool.
We also have two fine merino blends, the grey 483 and beige 484, and the blend with tussah-silk 210 that come from Australia. These are the types of wool of which we unfortunately can not say with certainty that they are mulesing-free (but strictly speaking we can not do that from the South American and New Zealand, there are no certifications or anything like that). Our wholesaler has been working for a long time with its supplier and is confident that this wool is “good”. That confidence is, of course fine but we just do not know for sure.
In recent times we have seen an interesting development due to the increased demand for wool for XXL knitting. It is precisely the slightly less fine European wool that suddenly attracts attention. Previously, the wool produced here was still used as an inferior product by the carpet industry, among other things. But lately we have been selling large quantities of wool of European origin for XXL knitting, such as the undyed varieties 339 Scotch blend, 420 South German merino, 430 Zwartbles, 440 Norwegian, 450 Icelandic and 470 Spanish merino. All these wools are mulesing-free.

Dutch wool

As already mentioned, wool production has almost completely disappeared from the Netherlands. There are initiatives to do something about this, such as Wools NU, which we support. However, these are so small-scale that it is a drop in the ocean. Moreover, it is difficult to sell wool. The wool is usually much less fine and soft than one is accustomed to today and the price is usually also a lot higher. There is still a long way to go. We used to be also to source wool from Texel that was dyed abroad and brought back to the island. However this trade is on the hand of one party and due to the very high price we cannot sell this wool anymore unfortunately.
Approach
As a retailer and small wholesaler, we can not do much more than the average consumer outside the contacts with our direct suppliers: insisting that the large textile brands impose requirements on their wool suppliers. Despite the fact that some suppliers supply us with several tonnes of wool every year, compared to the really big players in the textile market, they are relatively small traders or producers. Be sure in any case that the subject has our full attention. As soon as we have additional relevant product information, you will find it on our website. On this page, or on the pages about the respective wools. But as said, it is very difficult or sometimes even impossible to get the full information. Yet we will for sure try!

In this connection it might be good to note that dying from a myasis infection is no fun for a sheep either. It is difficult to determine whether the drug (mulesing) is really worse than the disease (infection). The real problem, of course, is that the merino sheep have been bred too far to produce a lot of wool. There is also mulesing-free Australian wool. Not all sheep farmers use the method. Since 2010, the practice has been banned “on a voluntary basis”, but it is known that not all Australian sheep farmers adhere to this. However, the number is growing under pressure from buyers, media and, among others, consumer organizations. And there are also initiatives such as New Merino, where the wool comes from merino sheep that are bred with less deep skin folds. As a result, the risk of myasis infection has declined sharply and mulesing is unnecessary. Unfortunately, at the moment the entire production seems to go to the big textile traders. We have not yet found a way to buy this wool.

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