Wool vs. Organic Wool

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Wool

About

Wool is a collective noun for different mixtures of hair, originating from various animals such as sheep, alpaca, camel, cashmere, angora, vicuna and mohair. The most well-known type of wool is merino wool, coming from merino sheep. Wool consists of protein fibers (keratin) which are shaped in the skin of sheep. The fibers are also called animal natural fibers. These fibers vary from superfine fibers (for example cashmere) to rougher and hairier ones. The finer the fiber, the smaller the diameter. Cashmere, for example, has a diameter of 16 microns, while thick, hairy wool types have a diameter from around 40 microns.

Characteristics

Resilience, elastic, durable, breathable and warm. Wool fibers are so elastic that you can bend it 30.000 times and it will still not have any damages. Wool has the ability to easily absorb moisture but also to release moisture thereby always maintaining a perfect balance.

Production countries

Wool is widely produced, in about 100 countries around the world, spread over half a million farms. Among which are Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, China, India, Iran, Russia, the UK, and South Africa. Each year, 2.1 million tons of wool is produced worldwide, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Australia is the biggest producer of wool, producing one-fifth of the total wool production. After Australia, countries such as New Zealand, China, the UK, Iran, and Argentina are large producers. Each country produces more than 50.000 tons a year.

Soil

There is ambiguity about the impact of wool production on the soil. On one hand, sheep are helpful in improving the soil structure. They strengthen the ability of soil to absorb water and to keep its nutrition. However, it often happens that livestock for wool production results in overgrazing. Overgrazing depletes the ground, turning the soil into a dry desert while losing its fertility.  Once overgrazing has taken place, it is very hard to recover the soil. Another side effect of livestock is that it produces a high amount of methane; pushing out more greenhouse gases than cars. Wool itself can easily be disposed of in soil, enriching the ground with valuable nutrients. Wool is biodegradable and it takes only a short time to break it down.

Labor

The processing of wool is usually very labor intensive. However, some steps in the production process are nowadays taken over by machinery.

Water usage

The breeding of sheep is very water-intensive. It appears that the production of wool needs around 150 liters in order to produce 1KG of wool. However, this is only a rough estimation.

Processing

In order to make wool, first, the wool is sheared off. Usually, this happens twice a year. A common practice in wool production is ‘mulesing’. Sheep often have flystrike (myiasis). In order to reduce this, strips of skin around the breech are removed. This is extremely painful and a serious problem in the wool industry. After shearing, the fleece is properly washed and all the dirt and lanolin is being removed. This is also called sourcing and costs lots of water and energy. Besides, detergents and chemicals are used to wash the wool. The lanolin (grease) is used again for other properties such as cosmetics.

After washing the wool needs to dry. When it is dry, the sorting process starts in which the same qualities are being sorted (same length, the same level of absorbing dyes etc.). This is followed by the carding process which is comparable with combing hair. Carding can be done with machines or by small hand tools. Carding makes the wool soft. After that, the wool is spun into yarns and is ready to become a fabric.

Wool yarns can be made through the worsten or woolen system. Worsten yarns consist of long, parallel fibers. These fibers are smoother and stronger than woolen fibers. A woolen yarn consists of both short and long fibers. These fibers lay in different directions. The wool from woolen yarns feels rougher and is also warmer than worsten yarns.

Dyestuffs

Wool easily absorbs different dyestuffs, often without the help of chemicals. Wool is therefore known for its rich colors.

Costs

There are many different types and qualities of wool. Therefore, it is hard to jump to any conclusions when it comes to costs. Very fine merino wool is more expensive than regular merino wool. However, merino wool is again cheaper than for example cashmere.

 

Organic Wool

About

Wool is a collective noun for different mixtures of hair, originating from various animals such as sheep, alpaca, camel, cashmere, angora, vicuna and mohair. The most well-known type of wool is merino wool, coming from merino sheep. Wool consists of protein fibers (keratin) which are shaped in the skin of sheep. Wool fibers are also called animal natural fibers. These fibers vary from superfine fibers (for example cashmere) to rougher and hairier ones. The finer the fiber, the smaller the diameter. Cashmere, for example, has a diameter of 16 microns, while thick, hairy wool types have a diameter from around 40 microns.

There are no general, worldwide standards for wool in order to be called ‘organic wool’. Each country has their own requirements. Usually, when people speak about ‘organic wool’ they mean that the sheep are treated well and that no pesticides, chemicals or whatsoever are used during the production process. However, this is open to interpretation. The International Wool Textile Organization (IWTO) introduced a new organic wool standard which should be met before wool can be called organic.

Characteristics

Resilience, elastic, durable, breathable and warm. Organic wool fibers are so elastic that you can bend it 30.000 times and it will still not have any damages. Organic wool has the ability to easily absorb moisture but also to release moisture thereby always maintaining a perfect balance.

Production countries

Wool is widely produced, in about 100 countries around the world, spread over half a million farms. Among which are Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, China, India, Iran, Russia, the UK, and South Africa. Each year, 2.1 million tons of wool is produced worldwide, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Australia is the biggest producer of wool, producing one-fifth of the total wool production. After Australia, countries such as New Zealand, China, the UK, Iran, and Argentina are large producers. Each country produces more than 50.000 tons a year.

Soil

Stricter rules are enhanced during the livestock production of organic wool in comparison to regular wool. For example, it is prohibited to use hormones and genetic engineering and there are holistic management practices about how the livestock must be used. These practices result in a lower level of methane emissions. Organic wool can easily be disposed of in soil, enriching the ground with valuable nutrients. Organic wool is biodegradable and it takes only a short time to break it down.

Labor

The processing of organic wool is usually very labor intensive. However, some steps in the production process are nowadays taken over by machinery.

Water usage

The breeding of sheep is very water-intensive. It appears that the production of wool needs around 150 liters in order to produce 1KG of wool. However, this is only a rough estimation. In general, less water is used during the production of organic wool. Again, this totally depends upon the type of process which is used.

Processing

In order to make organic wool, first, the wool is sheared off. Usually, this happens twice a year. The cruel process of ‘mulesing’ is usually prohibited during the processing of organic wool. After shearing, the fleece is properly washed and all the dirt and lanolin is being removed. With organic wool, the washing is usually done without chemicals and toxics. But again, this depends upon each process. The lanolin (grease) is used again for other properties such as cosmetics.

After washing the wool needs to dry. When it is dry, the sorting process starts in which the same qualities are being sorted (same length, the same level of absorbing dyes etc.). This is followed by the carding process which is comparable with combing hair. Carding can be done with machines or by small hand tools. Carding makes the wool soft. After that, the wool is spun into yarns and is ready to become a fabric.

Wool yarns can be made through the worsten or woolen system. Worsten yarns consist of long, parallel fibers. These fibers are smoother and stronger than woolen fibers. A woolen yarn consists of both short and long fibers. These fibers lay in different directions. The wool from woolen yarns feels rougher and is also warmer than worsten yarns. Organic wool should be woven into wool according to the Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS).

Dyestuffs

Organic wool easily absorbs different dyestuffs, often without the help of chemicals. Wool is therefore known for its rich colors.

Costs

There are many different types and qualities of wool. Therefore, it is hard to jump to any conclusions when it comes to costs. Very fine merino wool is more expensive than regular merino wool. However, merino wool is again cheaper than for example cashmere. In general, we can conclude that organic wool is more expensive than regular wool.