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A Fresh Look at Wool

Authors:

Abstract

The paper is based on work done within the project Valuing Norwegian Wool, where the main objective is providing knowledge on how Norwegian wool can contribute to a more environmentally sustainable textile production and consumption, but also increase value creation in agriculture, the textile industry, retailing and design. With wool's enormous environmental benefits in a lifecycle perspective along with a growing demand for quality wool apparel, this is an opportune moment to explore the potential of Norwegian wool where both knowledge and strategic action has been fragmented. Our findings – from the whole value chain from farmers to consumers – are the basis for new strategies for an industry that is slowly dying as wool is seen as a bi-product of sheep farming, and most of the production is exported. Norwegian designers, along with textile companies and garment industries currently use very little local wool, while the consumers increasingly favour qualities that Norwegian producers currently are unable to meet. Since Norwegian wool has technical, environmental and symbolic values that have not been fully exploited, our findings will show how existing qualities can meet new expectations both nationally and internationally. Product development, traditional crafts and communication strategies are also part of the project. Wool is under fire and has been in trouble for a long time. Recent global developments seem to have given this fibre an up-swing, but can it last? In the light of "local being the new organic", could the fashion-business follow the food-business in taking a fresh look at wool, making local wool the "new black"? The paper is based on work done within the project Valuing Norwegian Wool, where the main objective is providing knowledge on how Norwegian wool can contribute to a more environmentally sustainable textile production and consumption, but also increase value creation in agriculture, the textile industry, retailing and design. This is an on-going three-year project headed by SIFO 1 in collaboration with several Norwegian and International partners, among others NICE 2 Fashion, European Outdoor Group, the RITE 3 Group, the Norwegian Fashion Institute, design schools – and the value-chain in Norway from sheep to shop. There are several work-packages in the project including mapping the value-chain, reviewing the cultural history, the environmental benefits and the consumer barriers, along with setting up an innovation lab. Comparing the situation in Norway to developments in the world market is also an important work-package, and one that will be addressed in this paper.
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A Fresh Look at Wool
Ingun Grimstad Klepp*1, Tone Skårdal Tobiasson*2, Charlotte Bik Bandlien1
SIFO/National Institute of Consumer Research1 NICE/Nordic Initiative Clean & Ethical2
Postboks 4682 Nydalen CO/ Kastellveien 1B
0405 Oslo 1162 Oslo
Norway Norway
ingun.g.klepp@sifo.no* tone.tobiasson@nicefashion.no*
charlotte.b.bandlien@sifo.no
2
Abstract
The paper is based on work done within the project Valuing Norwegian Wool, where the
main objective is providing knowledge on how Norwegian wool can contribute to a more
environmentally sustainable textile production and consumption, but also increase value
creation in agriculture, the textile industry, retailing and design. With wool’s enormous
environmental benefits in a lifecycle perspective along with a growing demand for quality
wool apparel, this is an opportune moment to explore the potential of Norwegian wool where
both knowledge and strategic action has been fragmented. Our findings from the whole
value chain from farmers to consumers are the basis for new strategies for an industry that is
slowly dying as wool is seen as a bi-product of sheep farming, and most of the production is
exported. Norwegian designers, along with textile companies and garment industries currently
use very little local wool, while the consumers increasingly favour qualities that Norwegian
producers currently are unable to meet. Since Norwegian wool has technical, environmental
and symbolic values that have not been fully exploited, our findings will show how existing
qualities can meet new expectations both nationally and internationally. Product development,
traditional crafts and communication strategies are also part of the project.
Key words
wool, sustainability, innovation, added value, “renewawool, fashion, Norway, tradition
Wool is under fire and has been in trouble for a long time. Recent global developments seem
to have given this fibre an up-swing, but can it last? In the light of “local being the new
organic”, could the fashion-business follow the food-business in taking a fresh look at wool,
making local wool the "new black"?
The paper is based on work done within the project Valuing Norwegian Wool, where the
main objective is providing knowledge on how Norwegian wool can contribute to a more
environmentally sustainable textile production and consumption, but also increase value
creation in agriculture, the textile industry, retailing and design. This is an on-going three-year
project headed by SIFO1 in collaboration with several Norwegian and International partners,
among others NICE2 Fashion, European Outdoor Group, the RITE3 Group, the Norwegian
Fashion Institute, design schools and the value-chain in Norway from sheep to shop. There
are several work-packages in the project including mapping the value-chain, reviewing the
cultural history, the environmental benefits and the consumer barriers, along with setting up
an innovation lab. Comparing the situation in Norway to developments in the world market is
also an important work-package, and one that will be addressed in this paper.
Decline in price and volume
30 years ago 70 % of all Norwegian wool was sold in Norway, now only 10 to 20 % stays in
the local market, and the volume has been steadily shrinking according to Animalia4. Add into
the mix that the sheep-farmer is being paid less by the two buyers in Norway5 based on
shrinking world wool prices, so that the amount of income for wool, in spite of government
1 The National Institute for Consumer Research in Norway (Statens Institutt for Forbruksforskning)
2 Nordic Initiative Clean & Ethical
3 Reducing the Impact of Textiles on the Environment
4 Animalia (Meat and Poultry Research Centre) - is the research and knowledge centre of the Norwegian meat
industry, a non-profit organisation, funded by the Norwegian farmers and the industry, and operating under the
supervision of the Norwegian Agriculture Authority
5 All wool in Norway is bought by the private company Fatland or the farmer cooperative Norilia/Nortura
3
subsidies, is dwindling steadily one would wonder whether the future for locally sourced
wool in Norwegian textile projects is an issue worth considering.
Sheep-farming has the lowest profitability of all livestock- and farming-practices (Klepp and
Lutnæs, 2007), and in the last 20 years the European sheep population has declined by 20 %
(Popescu, 2010). Globally one has seen the same tendency, with a decline in clean weight
production of 2.5% world-wide in 2008 with the largest falls in some of the largest wool-
exporting countries: Australia was down by 8%, New Zealand down by 6% and Argentina
down by 16%. Fine wool production (24.5 microns6 and finer) was estimated to have fallen by
5%, and the IWTO7 estimated that the world wool production and supply were likely to be
lower in 2009 and 2010, particularly for apparel wool. The major wool-growing countries
expected to see production fall by around 2% in the 2009/10 season. Sheep numbers are
continually falling, as growers shift from wool towards meat, together with continuing
drought in Australia and in South America8 (IWTO, 2009).
The shift towards meat9 is a consequence of higher meat-prices (Nicholson, 2010). One sees
the “pull” between food production and fibres increasing in other sectors too, as problems
surrounding drought, flooding (recently in Pakistan) and population growth shifts focus of
agriculture towards food rather than clothing; according to several news-sources the Chinese
government has decided that former cotton-fields will be designated for rice instead.
But scarcer resources can mean better prices for suppliers. Apparel wool prices fell sharply in
October 2008 as the result of the downturn from the Global Financial Crisis, and prices
reached a low point in February 2009 before recovering a little by the end of the 2008/09
season. Trends in the prices for wool used for interior textiles were more mixed in 2008/09
since the decline was not as significant, in part because prices for interior textiles wool had
not lifted as much as apparel wool prices in 2007/0810. A further support for wool prices since
has been the very low levels of wool production and supply, particularly of apparel wool. It is
interesting to note that the decline in wool prices in absolute terms as a result of the two
financial crises11 was about the same, but the price level at the low point in 2009 was well
above the low point in 1998. This illustrates the impact of the low supply level, particularly
when one considers that the global financial crisis was more widespread and deeper than the
Asian financial crisis12 (IWTO, 2010).
Looking at scoured and treated wool, global wool trade in wool top fell by 17%, wool yarn
fell by 14%, woven fabric wool saw a 13% fall in global exports in 2008 from the 2007 levels
and a fall in worsted wool fabric exports (down 14%). Similarly on the import side, there was
a significant drop in wool yarn imports by many of the top 20 importing countries13. Global
trade in wool carpets was 9% lower in 2008 as the fall in housing markets and construction hit
hard. But according to the IWTO‟s report the worst of the financial crisis seems to be over,
6 Measurement of fineness of wool, a lower number being finer than a higher
7 International Wool Textile Organisation
8 http://www.iwto.org/about/History.htm
9 Which means animals are slaughtered earlier and do not yield the same amount of wool as they would if they
lived longer
10 Increased demand from China pushed prices on the world market
11 Asian and global
12 http://www.iwto.org/about/History.htm
13 Except for Australia, Denmark, the US and Romania who all recorded an increase in imports, and the UK
reported a surprising 83% lift of imports of wool fabric
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and there are solid signs that the major wool consuming countries of the US, Japan, Italy,
Germany, the UK and South Korea that have been in recession are starting to recover:
With demand expected to improve from the lower levels in 2008, wool prices should
rise. The extent of the rise in prices could be significant, given the low wool
production. There could be important differences in the extent of price movements for
wool used in apparel and that used in home textiles. The supply of apparel wool is
expected to be tighter than the supply of wool used for home textiles and, to some
extent, hand-knitting yarn.
Market players and confidence, or lack thereof
The Woolmark-label was a revolutionary step in international promotion for wool that first
appeared in 1964. Any housewife worth her salt who bought wool-products in the 1960‟s and
70‟s would look for the tell-tale Woolmark-label, as there were Woolmark-offices around the
world ensuring quality control, marketing- and information-campaigns. The label was the
brain-child of Sir William Vines of the IWS14 and the logo was designed by Italian graphic
artist Francesco Saroglia. Vines had argued that there had to be an international identity for
wool, an individual image, which would hold consumer confidence and represent quality
standards. In 1993 AWRAP15 was founded and the activities of the two groups were merged
and managed as one organization under AWRAP‟s control from 1995. The last update on the
IWS is from 1996/97, when the IWS becomes incorporated in order to provide a tighter, more
commercial focus, and its shareholders are AWRAP and SAWB16, while the Uruguayan Wool
Secretariat has associate member status17 (IWS, 1997). The Woolmark Company Pty Ltd was
established in 1997, as a result of the IWS undergoing a change of name. The Company was
initially a subsidiary of the AWRAP but later became a subsidiary of Australian Wool
Services Ltd18 (Encyclopedia of Australian Science, 2000). For on 1 January 2001, AWS
replaced the AWRAP. AWS was established with two subsidiaries: AWI19 and The
Woolmark Company Pty Ltd. On 30 April 2002 AWI separated from AWS to become a fully
independent public company limited by shares20 (AWI, 2010) October 5th 2007 heralds the
announcement that the AWI has completed the acquisition of Woolmark, the AWS and the
IWS no longer have a role in the world of wool21 (Just Style, 2007).
Between the end of the 1990s and until recently Woolmark has been conspicuously low-key.
The whole issue seemed to be shrouded in mystery and intrigue, but at the last IWTO
conference we did ask around and through informal conversations were able to get a picture
of what had happened: A mismanaged pension-fund had toppled the economy within
Woolmark/IWS/AWS, and what had been an organisation with ties to several continents
became a purely Australian label controlled by the AWI. However, those who use the label in
all continents are still expected to pay the AWI for the privilege. It was during the 50‟s and
60‟s that several new synthetic fibres were developed, resulting in consumer-confusion what
textiles actually were made of. Brand names and generic names were used inter-changeably,
and the simple world were wool, silk, linen and cotton had dominated, was left behind. The
Woolmark label was developed before the laws governing fibre labelling were passed in the
14 International Wool Secretariat, founded in 1937, as rayon was becoming a major threat as a fiber of choice
15 Australian Research and Promotion Organisation
16 South African Wool Board
17 http://www.mlm.com.au/work/woolmark/world/history/middle.html
18 http://www.eoas.info/biogs/A000826b.htm#related
19 Australian Wool Innovation
20 http://www.wool.com/About-AWI.htm
21 http://www.just-style.com/news/awi-completes-woolmark-acquisition_id98719.aspx
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1970‟s, so they were in many ways ahead of their time. Laws concerning textile labelling in
the EU (and Norway) have since ensured that the correct fibre-content is marked so that
“wool” in whatever percentage is clearly stated and the question arises what practical purpose
the Woolmark label has for today’s consumer (Klepp, 2006). In addition other issues
concerning the confidence in the label had arisen.
Mulesing22 is today a important factors regarding consumer‟s attitude towards wool and this
issues fall on the shoulders of Woolmark, and AWI. In 2008 Just Style announced that high
street fashion chain H&M23 has shelved Australian merino wool products derived from sheep
subjected to mulesing since the Swedish company is frustrated by the slowness of a
projected 2010 phase-out of the practice. As Australia has pushed the phase-out to 2013, Don
Hamblin, President of Wool Producers Australia‟s announcement at the IWTO spring-
congress in 2010 in Rambouillet, France, that mulesing is a „Northern hemisphere problem
and our market is in Asia‟ did not exactly enamour him to the audience. A little earlier, on the
same stage, Michael C. Appleby, Chief Science Advisor for the WSPA24 had told the same
audience that in spite of the economic down-turn and a lessened willingness to pay more for
organic products, consumers were just as concerned as before the financial crisis about animal
welfare (Tobiasson 2010a). As animal welfare is gaining momentum, the question arises
whether Woolmark‟s direct association with the organization that defends mulesing, could
actually be hurting wool in general as a fibre.
After a lengthy period when Woolmark has been conspicuously missing in the media-mix
touting whatever fibre‟s benefits for designers and textile companies (a quick read-through of
Women‟s Wear Daily or EcoTextileNews as two pertinent media-examples will offer ample
advertising from other fibres), the AWI recently announced a much more pro-active attitude
in its magazine, Beyond the Bale. Among their many initiatives are: Appointing Euro RSCG25
to promote and educate consumers about the many benefits of wool, supporting HRH Prince
of Wales Campaign for Wool26, launching two new collections of knitwear innovations at the
SpinExpo New York trade show to inspire high volume manufacturers and brands to work
with merino wool, planning a retailer and brand Consultation Forum, along with a fashion and
design Consultation Forum, instigating online marketing initiatives such as app development
and search engine optimization to drive traffic to digital assets (McCullough, 2010).
Interestingly enough, the AWI also states that: In line with the reduced size of the industry,
AWI will continue to actively review its size and resource base, reducing it wherever possible
without compromising its ability to achieve its Vision and Goal, along with reviewing the role
of AWI brands (for example, the Woolmark) and define a long-term strategy to rebuild the
brand and its value to consumers and trade.27
But there is another organization working to the wool industry to help understanding the
textile demands of the consumers and enhance the response to consumers with products and
promotional activities especially to meet their needs with wool: The IWTO. They started out
as a cooperation between the British and the French Wool Textile industries in 1924, were
22 Mulesing is surgical removal of pieces of skin/tissue around the tail, a common practice in Australia as a
means of fighting the sheep-fly paracite Lucilia cuprina which causes the painful disease Myiasis. This method
is mainly applied to Merino-sheep and without any form of anesthetics
23 Hennes & Mauritz
24 World Society for the Protection of Animals
25 The world‟s fifth largest global agency for advertising, marketing research, etc.
26 Launched fall 2010 in London, also supported by the British Wool Marketing Board
27 Our italics
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joined by Germany, Italy, Belgium and Czechoslovakia in subsequent years and in 1928 a
formal organization was formed, with statutes being approved in 1930 and its head offices
being in Bradford in the UK. Today the IWTO counts 24 member-countries through national
committees, including China, Brazil, USA and even Thailand and Mongolia. The
AWI/Woolmark company are also associate members28 (IWTO, 2010).
For those who had thought Woolmark had rolled over and died, they seem set on making a
come-back. During London Fashion Week recently, The Merino wool education project was
launched as an extension of the Campaign for Wool, spot-lighting that the royally-backed
campaign is very much an AWI-funded affair, even though the poster-sheep for the campaign
actually is the British Bowmont-breed29. The targeting that animal welfare groups have done
in the light of the mulesing controversy, which has lead to severe criticism from the NRF30
and BRC31 has resulted in the AWI sending a delegation to the US and UK. (McCullough,
2010) Some would claim that the mulesing controversy has already hurt an ailing wool-
industry substantially, and judging by measures taken by for example the New Zealand
sportsbrand Icebreaker, one could easily draw the conclusion that their baacode32 is an answer
to the pickle, since New Zealand merino-sheep are not mulesed, and this ensures the story
gets told (Saporito, 2010).
Different views on environmental issues and user-qualities
Another issue that is becoming increasingly important is a fibre‟s environmental footprint.
This was also an area where wool was challenged in 2010: The Dutch organization Made-
By‟s assessment and ranking of fibres from Class A to Class E33 had placed wool alongside
conventional cotton and generic viscose in the “dunce” class. Interestingly enough, Mowbray
(2010) unearthed a significant flaw in the proclaimed LCA34 on the included fibres since the
index only considered one part of the textiles‟ life-cycle from fibre growth to the point of
spinning. The self-proclaimed eco-organisation justified this by saying after preparing the
fibres in order to be ready for the spinning process, most types of yarn can be treated in a
similar way and therefore the spinning, textile processing, distribution, use and maintenance
or disposal stages were not included in this benchmark.
But this is not true: During textile processing yarns and fabrics are prepared for spinning in a
myriad of ways, and they are dyed, finished and processed differently. A true LCA would also
consider durability, wash, care and how a fibre can be disposed, decomposed or recycled.
Issues concerning land-use and water were simplified, according to Mowbray, since the land
sheep graze on is generally not fit for other agricultural enterprises. He adds that: „Also in
wool‟s favour is that in addition to being a natural carbon store, wool is produced from a
sustainable grassland system which itself has the capacity to store carbon.‟ So double
whammy there. He postulates that the environmental impacts of wool fibre could very well be
divided among the textile, cosmetics (because of the lanolin), meat, and in some cases cheese
industries. And since a substantial part of wool could meet current EU Ecolabel‟s standard if
required he states: „We have a real problem with how wool is scored under this system and do
not accept its findings(Mowbray, 2010). Strong words indeed.
28 http://www.iwto.org/about/History.htm
29Tom Podkolinski at the Valuing European Wool meeting, Oslo, September 6th, 2010
30 National Retail Federation
31 British Retail Consortium
32 An acronym for the ”barcode” which allows the product to be tracked from shearer to wearer
33 A being ”green” and E being ”red”
34 Life Cycle Assessment
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One of the strongest points for wool in the environmental footprint was completely ignored by
the Made-By Index, namely the user-stage (Klepp, 2010). For most textiles it is the washing
and drying that leads to the biggest energy-consumption (Allwood, 2006). The life-time of a
given textile is also vital in a LCA, since environmental impact of production is calculated
towards the amount of times a piece of clothing is worn (Fletcher, 2008). Wool has the unique
ability that it virtually is self-cleaning. Smell disappears with airing and soiled clothing is
easily cleaned either by using a damp cloth or by rinsing out. In addition wool is a durable
fibre that we associate with tradition, quality and longevity. On the opposite side of the scale
we find cotton, a fibre that is washed often and at high temperatures, and which we associate
with so-called fast-fashion (Klepp, 2003, Simpson and Crawshaw, 2002).
Wool also has very good user-qualities, it feels cool when it‟s hot and feels warm when it‟s
cold. It sheds creases due to its‟ natural „memory‟, making it good for travel. Wool absorbs
30% of its weight in water without feeling wet so is an ideal next to the skin fabric and for
physical activities out-doors. It is non-flammable and biodegradable. It can be made in a
range of yarn counts and lends itself to all types of fabric construction to provide virtually
every type of clothing item from fine lingerie to heavy winter coats (Patterson, 2009).
Wool has been an excellent textile fibre for centuries and the recent conference Textiles UK
in London this year even called it “the cloth of kings”. Wool naturally embodies many of the
qualities we try to mimic in synthetic fibres or so-called “intelligent fibres”. But these
qualities can also be construed to represent a problem in some instances. Therefore different
treatments have been developed. That wool shrinks and felts is good when developing strong
materials like felts and frieze, but can cause problems in washing. In the latter half of the last
century customers began to demand machine washability, good colour fastness and moth-
resistance. Mothproofing remains a debating point. Permethrin, the most popular chemical
for this purpose is very effective and relatively safe for humans at the levels applied, but can
be a problem from an environmental perspective. Efforts now focus on zero discharge
application, although many brands ban its use completely. Colour fastness of the dyes
traditionally used to dye wool had always been relatively poor but the application of
mordants35 cured the problem to a large extent. The use of sodium dichromate in huge
quantities delivered textiles with excellent fastness and this is still used in many dyehouses
around the world today. The problem is that chromium salts kill wildlife in rivers and some of
the residues that can be left on badly processed textiles (so called Chrome 6 salts) are
carcinogenic. The industry has met the challenge with pre-metallized dyes36 and more
recently with clever reactive dyes that bond permanently with the wool fibre without the need
for any metal content. In the future new revolutionary dye techniques37 may reduce
environmental impacts even further (Patterson, 2009).
One area where wool is struggling is with a lot of misinformation on wash and care, which is
why Valuing Norwegian Wool is also focusing on these exact issues. The most prevalent
misunderstanding is that wool shrinks with heat or centrifugal spinning. But it is the
mechanical treatment that is the actual problem (Laitala and Eilertsen, 2009). In addition is
the problem of wrong use of washing detergents. Protease enzymes in wash powders destroy
wool in a single wash cycle if you are unlucky and many accusations levelled at wool in
terms of quality are actually down to customer misunderstanding, or one could argue
35 Fixing agents that are metal-based salts
36 Dyes that contain the metal in the dye-molecules to deliver better fastness
37 One example being a patented catalytic dyeing process patented by DyeCat, developed at the University of
Leeds
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customer ignorance. The felting problem where the fabric shrink was initially overcome by
the use of chlorine chemistry, and then by clever acidic pre-treatments and polymer finishes
meaning that washability and even for some wool-fabrics tumble-drying are now normal
(Patterson, 2009/10). So-called “Superwash” actually makes the wool softer, as itchiness
remains one of the main obstacles in consumers‟ view of wool as a fibre of choice. The
itchiness of wool that some people experience is mostly related to fibre diameter. Finer fibres,
naturally, give greater comfort. The comfort limit for garments worn next to the skin is on the
average 28 microns. Many people experience discomfort if more than 3 to 4 % of the fibres
are over 28 microns. Wool can be blended with other fibres or lined with other textiles to
remove the itch factor38 (Sheep101, 2009). Merino has therefore become almost synonymous
with soft wool, as the breed has been bred in Australia and New Zealand to produce “super-
fine” (17 - 18,5 microns), “extra-fine” (15 16,5 microns) and ultra-fine (below 14,939
microns) qualities40 (IWTO, 2010). At the same time the agricultural authorities have
prioritized breeding for meat rather than wool in both Norway and other European countries,
resulting in lower wool qualities41.
It‟s natural, sustainable, has a very good eco-profile and is, if you believe the farmers, cheap
as chips. So why is it a minority fibre? Customers undoubtedly put a greater focus on comfort
than they did half a century ago: Wool grows on sheep, and they don‟t have infinitely variable
spinnerettes that can produce thick or thin fibres at the touch of a button, so the breeds that
produce thick fibres are now pretty much redundant from a clothing point of view. Breeds that
gave the world heavy tweed jackets and overcoats (and probably the odd pair of
excruciatingly uncomfortable underpants) are now consigned to carpet production, in a time
when popularity of laminate flooring, stripped floor boards and tiles means many sheep are on
the scrap heap (Patterson, 2009). The fact that a woolless sheep-breed has been developed is
thus not surprising; since the cost of shearing wool in some countries makes it uneconomic to
use the fibre down-stream. Most European woolgrowers find themselves in a situation where
shearing is nothing but pure cost and the fleeces are often abandoned in the countryside, or
when collected they are exported as greasy material to be processed outside of Europe
(Chaupin, 2010). New Zealand‟s Icebreaker has taken this exact problem in to the mix, and
CEO Jeremy Moon broke the local commodity cycle that was threatening to break both the
supply-chain and the company‟s future: Fluctuating prices and inconsistent qualities. Instead
he guaranteed multiyear contracts and prices, provided they could produce a uniform high-
quality fibre (Saporito, 2010).
Some farmers in Australia are also taking action: NewMerino has introducing a new, fully
documented, traceable wool supply chain for verifiably ethical wool; adhering to stringent
standards for responsible animal husbandry and environmental farming, the scheme gives
retailers, manufacturers and consumers the ability to trace the wool from garment to farm, and
confirm the complete pedigree of the products they buy. Specifications range from non-
mulesed wool to organic farming techniques to carbon-reducing production methods. The
NewMerino network also includes combers and spinners, and every product has a unique e-
number that can be entered in the online trace-back system42 (NewMerino, 2010).
38 http://www.sheep101.info/warmwool.html
39 The finest bale of Australian merino in 2010 was 11,4 microns
40 London, also supported by the British Wool Marketing Board
40 http://www.iwto.org/about/History.htm
41 Sissel Berntsen from Fagtjenesten for Ull at the Valuing European Wool meeting, Oslo, September 6th, 2010
42 http://www.newmerino.com.au/growers_about.html
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It is an open question what the future will bring. As we have described there is a development
towards specializing on wool-qualities in some area, with animal-welfare issues, and woolless
sheep and increasingly coarser wool in other areas taking in to consideration environmental
issues and better use of resources. Alternatively one could see a development where all
resources are utilized and wool‟s superior environmental qualities are taken in to account by
the entire value chain.
Norwegian wool, old traditions and new habits
As mentioned earlier, ultra fine merino wool is below 14,9 microns. The majority of wool
produced by Norwegian cross-breed sheep in the C1 class, which is the best classification in
the Norwegian system, is on average 31,4 microns, but the average with wool coarser than 38
microns is around 20 % according to Animalia (2010)43: Not exactly next-to-skin quality. As
lamented above, this is wool that for the most part ends up in carpeting, and almost 90 % of
the Norwegian wool-clip is exported to the UK for this purpose. According to the buyers of
Norwegian wool, it is particularly renowned for its strength, gloss and elasticity, has special
characteristics that make it resistant to wear and maintains its appearance even after long-term
use and wash. Furthermore, it has a 'clean' and good colour as the sheep have grown up in a
clean environment. However, because of its coarseness it is best suited for the production
carpet yarn, or coarser knitting wool according to Norilia (2010)44. So perhaps it would be
best to forget local wool in apparel?
We don‟t think things are that simple. There are two reasons for this. One is the rich traditions
in Norway for using wool yarns and wool textiles in clothing, the other reason is that wool-
qualities are not given once and for all but can change over time as a result of breeding and
selection. But first things first: Norway was industrialized late and traditional handicraft-
techniques have long and unbroken traditions. The sale of knitting-yarn is high (1 124 tons in
total, of which 826 in produced in Norway according to Haanes-Larsen in Norsk Industri45)
and the traditional Norwegian knitted sweaters, mittens, hats and socks are perhaps the most
popular souvenirs sold to tourists who visit Norway. Norway‟s big celebrity-magazine Se og
Hør46 has always given a traditional knit kofte47 to famous film- and pop-stars as their coveted
gift. There are also iconic pictures of ex-Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland and the
current Minister of Finance wearing their knitted sweaters at official meetings, presumably to
send a signal of frugality. In connection with every Winter Olympic Game since 1956 and
every Nordic event World Championship, Norway‟s major producer of traditional sweaters,
Dale of Norway, designs a new sweater. The Norwegian couture-designer Per Spook had the
audacity to show his versions of the coarse and traditional sweaters on the catwalk during the
Haute Couture shows in Paris in the 1970‟s. There is also a resurgence among younger, hipper
crowds in the use of bulky Norwegian knits Heimen and Husfliden48 have reported that
local snowboarders frequent their stores alongside tourists, looking for the “Setesdalkofte”
specifically49.
43 Animalia (Meat and Poultry Research Centre) - is the research and knowledge centre of the Norwegian meat
industry, a non-profit organisation, funded by the Norwegian farmers and the industry, and operating under the
supervision of the Norwegian Agriculture Authority
44 Norilia is responsible for the wool trade under Nortura; Norway's leading supplier of meat and eggs - a result
of the merger between Gilde Norsk Kjøtt BA and Prior Norge BA, organized as a cooperative owned by
approximately 25.000 farmers.
45 Norwegian Industry‟s main interest-organisation, Haanes-Larsen heads up the textile division
46 See and Hear”
47 Sweater or cardigan knit with traditional knitting patterns, often decorated with embroidered wool bands
48 Two handicrafts- and souvenir-stores in Norway
49 H. Midthjell at Dale‟s press-conference, Oslo, September 29th, 2010
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But even if Norwegians continue to knit traditional sweaters, designers have played with these
traditional patterns in later years; modernizing them and updating their expression a trend
which has been observed and exploited by both Commes des Garçon‟s Rei Kawakubo and
trend-expert Li Edelkoort one of the major trends on the catwalk for the fall/winter season
2010/11 was distilled in the pictures from Dolce & Gabbana‟s D&G line for both men and
women. The collections could have walked straight out of both Heimen and Husfliden, except
maybe for some of the more sexy cat suits (Hovland, 2010). The same traditional patterns
have earlier showed up in collections from American designer Ralph Lauren and French
designer Isabel Marant.
Another traditional garment that has been based on wool, but based on woven textiles and
intricate wool-embroideries, is the folk costume. Each district has developed a distinct
national costume (which in spite of its name is far from national) and Norwegians own 2,5
million bunader50 with the estimated value of almost 4 billion €, which they wear on the
average 2,5 times a year generally at formal occasions but most typically on the national
holiday May 17th. 55 % of all women own a bunad. Queen Sonja, Crown Prince Haakon
Magnus, Crown-Princess Mette-Marit and Princess Ingrid Alexandra all own several from
different regions of the country (Aftenposten Fakta, 2010). And for politicians wanting to
avoid razor-sharp stylists grading their dresses on formal occasions as palace balls, the
traditional dress is a safe bet and perfectly acceptable.
But “wearing wool the Norway” doesn‟t stop here. One could jokingly say that in Norway it
is considered child-abuse not to dress your off-spring in wool under-wear. Grandmothers and
mothers may still knit thicker wool long-johns and pullovers or cardigans as a second-layer
for the coldest days underneath the water-proof playsuit every Norwegian child frolicking in
the kindergarten owns, but on the inside is a set of wool undergarments doubling as the play-
suit of choice when indoors. In every supermarket in Norway you will find a display of Pierre
Robert51 merino underwear in colourful patterns and if anything could be called “the national
kids‟ costume”, it would be this. For sports, whether grown-up or growing-up, one might
choose the more “plain” wool under-wear from ex-sports icon Vegard Ulvang or from the
company that boast “Worn by Norwegians since 1853”, namely Devold. But if colourful
prints of Norwegian traditional patterns in bright colours tickle your fancy, perhaps ex-
snowboarder Kari Traa‟s collection in merino-wool is more up your alley. Dale of Norway‟s
inner shell underwear in merino is following suit in an area where Icebreaker is one of the few
international competitors, as they are for performance ski-outerwear. Both companies have
been gaining international attention for creating something very new from something old.
But even though the traditional woolen knit-sweater still may be made with the coarse
Norwegian wool, the bunad and certainly the wool under-wear next to skin, is not. For the
Norwegian products, we are strictly looking at Australian merino. The 100 merino sheep who
actually have found their way to Norway, do in no way contribute to these garments. Most of
the production is also moved out of the country, as it has in most of Western Europe, perhaps
with the exception of Portugal and some of the lower labour-cost-countries in the Baltic
region. Even Dale of Norway, which uses Norwegian wool in many of its products and has
production facilities in Dale scours all wool abroad and hand-work like linking the knitted
sweaters is done in countries with lower labour-costs. This is a part of the increasingly
fragmented value-chain, a phenomenon not purely Norwegian, but a general trend in the
European textile industry. Sourcing raw-materials in one continent, producing the textiles in
50 The Norwegian name for the folk costumes
51 Surprisingly enough a Norwegian brand, though we could also have mentioned a slew of other brand-names
11
another and even sewing the garments in a third has become part of the race for cheaper
prices. Norway‟s once blossoming textile industry has almost completely disappeared
(Andersson, 2009).
In light of recent trends, both those on the catwalk (which have been picked up as far down-
stream as by UK‟s Tesco in their F&F fashion-collection) and the fact that the SpinExpo Yarn
Show and Pitti Filati yarn fair both reported wool prices for apparel as being up because of
increased demand (Blecher, 2010), it may be an opportune moment to explore the potential of
Norwegian wool where both knowledge and strategic action has been fragmented. Granted,
Norwegian designers, along with textile companies and garment industries currently use very
little local wool, while the consumers increasingly favour qualities that Norwegian producers
currently are unable to meet, but what if there was ways of extracting finer wool qualities
what if there were “hidden” or unexploited qualities? Given that Norwegian wool has
technical, environmental and symbolic values that have not been fully exploited, how could
existing qualities meet new expectations both nationally and internationally? How could
product development, traditional crafts and communication strategies turn the tide?
A Fresh Look
These were some of the questions posed by the Valuing Norwegian Wool project, instigated
by SIFO in cooperation with actors from the entire value-chain in Norway. In the food-sector,
valuing the local has been an emerging trend and in the EU the system with PDO52, PGI53 and
TSG54 has resulted in 950 protected food-items. The Norwegian coastal wild-sheep is in the
process of applying for its meat. (Ironically, the label that is used for food, utilizes the most
traditional of all knitting-patterns, the Selbu-rose. But wool is not similarly protected. The
only “label” for Norwegian wool, is a private label developed by Curtis Wool in the UK,
“Viking Wool”, which Norwegians would be horrified by.) Currently most of the wool from
this breed is discarded, even though the breeds undercoat is very fine (Gerhardsen, 2010).
Along with the wool from the Spæl-sheep, it just seems hard to card industrially, though both
de-hairing machines and mini-mills are ways of extracting the finer microns again it is a
question of cost, of consistency and of return on investment. Why would someone pay a lot
more for some of the world‟s softest wools – maybe as fine as the Vicuna55 who supplies the
world‟s most expensive fibre? Except if one was telling the story of sheep-breeds who scare
off predators, who ensure Norway‟s unique cultural landscape, with ties back to Viking-times
and who are much brighter than their distant cousins the Norwegian cross-bred (Trodahl,
1998). Mix this in with pictures of Norway‟s breathtaking nature, the clean air and water –
and the environmentally-friendly end result: You may just have a story to sell.
With the high cost of producing anything in Norway, one has to focus on unique items that
justify the price-level, according to Trond Giske, Norway‟s Minister of Trade (Tobiasson,
2010b). Two of the emerging companies working with special sheep-breeds in Norway
Telespinn and Selbu Spinneri speak passionately about how wool and sheep-breeding is like
wine and wine-making56. Maybe it is time to get away from the specialized thinking of large-
scale farming where sheep are bred for meat, milk or wool? In the US, Tom Chappel who
raises Rambouillet sheep and makes underwear from their wool, insists it‟s a myth that one
52 Protected Designation of Origin
53 Protected Geographical Indication
54 Traditional Specialty Guaranteed
55 One of two wild South American camelids, along with the guanaco, which live in the high alpine areas of the
Andes. It is a relative of the llama, and is now believed to be the wild ancestor of domesticated alpacas.
56 Espelien and Solheim at the Valuing European Wool meeting, Oslo, September 6th, 2010
12
has to choose one or the other57 (Rambler‟s Way, 2010). Finisterre, a UK sportswear-brand
who sell clothing to surfers have developed a collection of underwear from the local
Bowmont-breed, a sheep originally kept for its meat58. Ironically the same Bowmont is the
poster-sheep for the AWI-backed Wool Campaign.
There is also a recent movement towards product customization within mass production,
which does give the users an option to be involved in the design process, at least to some
degree (for example Nike iD shoes). This may be a useful tool when designing within the
terms of mass production but still having possibility to focus on individualization and user-
oriented design (Laitala and Boks, 2010). This is developing rapidly through so-called
“crowd-sourcing”59 and mobile applications that put designers in direct contact with their
customers (Corcoran, 2010). The DIY-movement is also growing rapidly, with knitting as a
time-honoured tradition gaining young followers (Bandlien, 2010). We want something
unique. The “archivist” digging up old classics like Seil Marschall60, Nigel Cabourn61 and
Sealup62 have become some of the hottest bloggers in the world of fashion63.
Add to the mix North Circular, the UK knit-design company started by fashion-models Lily
Cole and Katherine Poulton who insist that by using the wool from Wensleydale-sheep they
save one of the 1800 rasta-looking sheep from slaughter and they have the women who knit
the garments hand-write messages on the hand-tags (Aasen, 2010). Norwegian designer
Cecilie Melli, who has been designing red-carpet moments for celebrities, recently launched a
collection of cardigans from fairly coarse Norwegian wool with frilly decorations, produced
in a tiny factory in Northern Norway. Most buyers told her they would never sell, but when
she offered them in her own flag-ship store and started telling her customers the story behind
them, they flew out the door64. And they don‟t come cheap. But then a recent issue of “How
to Spend it featured a fashion-shoot aptly named “Ahead of the Curve” with mainly woollen
items in the price-range of €700 to £3,400 – the latter being an Elie Saab-dress with a wool
under-layer of all things.
Could wool become a true mainstream fibre again, with double digit market share? It will
depend on how wool is positioned as a brand and viewed as a product. Can fine wool give the
fibre its old position back? It may be that local lore and tradition will add to the mystique and
make local the new organic, Women‟s Wear Daily among others predict this trend as a
consequence of the economic down-turn: Our need to feel safe surfaces in tough times.
Oerlikon predicts that consumers will want clothes produced close to home (Engelhardt,
2010). But for European wool this means finding the right breeds, ensuring that they are
continually bred for their wool and that one is able to extract the finest fibres, handling them
down-stream as they deserve, also pricewise. Last, but not least, the consumer needs to be re-
educated on how to treat wool since it is the consumer-phase that wool wins the life-cycle
battle: A good airing and it is ready to go. Along with design for durability.
57 http://www.ramblersway.com/our-story
58 Thomas Podkolinski at the Valuing European Wool meeting, Oslo, September 6th, 2010
59 Asking surfers of a web-page to express opinions and give in-put on products in the development-phase
60 http://www.seil-marschall.de
61 http://www.cabourn.com
62 http://www.sealup.net
63 Thomas Podkolinski at the Valuing European Wool meeting, Oslo, September 6th, 2010
64 Cecilie Melli at the Valuing European Wool meeting, Oslo, September 5th, 2010
13
The potential for market-uptake on this naturally renewable fibre is there, and with a new look
at all the down-stream phases, it could if one implemented so-called Cradle to Cradle65-
processing and design become renewawool66. All one needs is a fresh view on wool.
65 The system developed by the Environmental Protection Encouragement Agency where products are designed
for take-back-system, so they can be disassembled or decomposed
66 A word-play on renewable and wool, coined during an informal meeting with the IWTO
14
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Aftenposten Fakta (2010), “Bunader for 30 milliarder kroner” (“Folk costumes to the tune of
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Allwood, JM et al (2006), Well Dressed? The present and future sustainability of clothing and
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Andersson, EN (2009), “Warm Front” in Monocle, Issue 28, pp 146-147
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Organisation/Poinema Analysis and Delta Consultants
... Reviews of apparel LCAs found little consistency between studies, although apparel production is only superseded by the use stage for sustainability impact (Adrian Chapman, 2010;Kozlowski et al., 2016). Global versus local production has shown reduced environmental or sustainability impact for fiber (Klepp et al., 2010;Trejo et al., 2014) and food production (Schmitt et al., 2017). ...
Article
Recently “onshoring,” manufacturing products for local markets from regional suppliers and producers, has gained traction in the U.S. “Onshoring” is contrasted with “offshoring” or moving production to countries with lower wages and fewer environmental and safety regulations. Moving manufacturing operations effects people, communities, economies, and the environment worldwide. Offshoring steadily eroded U.S. apparel manufacturing capabilities while U.S. apparel demand skyrocketed according to American Association of Footwear and Apparel statistics. This research developed a simplified prospective sustainability life cycle assessment (LCA) method to compare global sustainability impacts of onshoring and offshoring legging production in the fast-growing athleisure apparel market segment. A proof-of-concept legging design demonstrated that technical capability exists regionally in the Eastern U.S. for supply and production. Sustainability LCA impacts were measured globally to compare effects to workers from onshoring to the U.S. with offshoring to Sri Lanka to produce garments for U.S. consumers. Results suggest greater worker environmental impacts exist when producing leggings in Sri Lanka than the U.S. largely due to electricity generation differences. Worker safety concerns for garment workers in Sri Lanka were found to be greater than in the U.S. However, economic benefits for workers were better in Sri Lanka than the U.S. because Sri Lankan apparel workers receive middle-class wages, whereas U.S. counterparts do not. Whether onshoring or offshoring apparel production, sustainability tradeoffs exist. U.N. sustainable development goals encourage strategies to improve sustainability for apparel workers worldwide instead of specifying where production occurs.
... The comfort limit for garments worn next to the skin is on the average 28 µ. Many people experi-ence discomfort if more than 3 to 4 % of the fibres are over 28 µ (Klepp, Bandlien, & Tobiasson, 2010). According to the Wool Advisory Service, around 30 per cent of Norwegian wool is class C1, which means an average of around 32 µ. ...
Technical Report
Full-text available
Wool has been called the white gold and has warmed and brought joy to the Norwegian population throughout history. It is also a textile fibre with many unused features. The starting point of the project Valuing Norwegian Wool is a desire to help Norwegian agriculture, wool based industry, and design to exploit the potential inherent in Norwegian wool as raw material, and in the Norwegian textile tradition. Norway has a thriving textile industry and several strong companies that produce products made of wool. The marketing of the origin of the raw material these products are produced from is however rather inadequate and sometimes misleading. While fewer and fewer of the products are made of Norwegian wool, consumers - not without reason - take it for granted that Norwegian producers use Norwegian wool. The project is funded by the Norwegian Research Council and led by SIFO. The project partners include representatives from the entire value chain - from agricultural organizations, industry and commerce, and design and consumption. This report is one of many publications in the project and makes visible the challenges that exist in the value chain, but also the great potential that is there.
Garn-arbeiderne The Yarn-workers " ) in D2 Bunader for 30 milliarder kroner " ( " Folk costumes to the tune of 30 billion NOK " ) in Aftenposten
  • Aasen
  • Th
Aasen, TH (2010), " Garn-arbeiderne " ( " The Yarn-workers " ) in D2, March 19th 2010, pp 47-48 Aftenposten Fakta (2010), " Bunader for 30 milliarder kroner " ( " Folk costumes to the tune of 30 billion NOK " ) in Aftenposten, May 16th, 2010, p 9
Well Dressed? The present and future sustainability of clothing and textiles in the United Kingdom, Cambridge: University of Cambridge Institute for Manufacturing Andersson
  • J M Allwood
Allwood, JM et al (2006), Well Dressed? The present and future sustainability of clothing and textiles in the United Kingdom, Cambridge: University of Cambridge Institute for Manufacturing Andersson, EN (2009), "Warm Front" in Monocle, Issue 28, pp 146-147
Stram i Strikken Stretching the Stitch " ) in Oslo Fashion Week Magazine Slow Cycle at SpinExpo Yarn Show " in Women's Wear Daily Consumers Want It Now and Fashion World Adapts " in Women's Wear Daily
  • Animalia
Animalia (2010) http://www.animalia.no/ AWI (2010) http://www.wool.com/About-AWI.htm Bandlien, CB (2010), " Stram i Strikken " ( " Stretching the Stitch " ) in Oslo Fashion Week Magazine, February 2010 pp 24-29 Blecher, S (2010), " Slow Cycle at SpinExpo Yarn Show " in Women's Wear Daily, August 3 rd, 2010, p 21 Chaupin, MT (2010), " Wool Processing Services for the woolgrowers " Wools of Europe Atelier – Laines d " Europe Corcoran, CT (2010), " Consumers Want It Now and Fashion World Adapts " in Women's Wear Daily, September 15 th, 2010, p 1 and p 26 Encyclopedia of Australian Science (2000)http://www.eoas.info/biogs/A000826b.htm#related Engelhardt, A (2010), " Supply and Demand for textile fibres in 2009 and 2010 " IWTO 79 th Congress, May 2010
Material Diversity Merket for livet " ( " Marked for Life " ) in D2
  • K Fletcher
Fletcher, K (2008), " Material Diversity " in Sustainable Fashion & Textiles: Design Journeys, Earthscan Gerhardsen, W (2010), " Merket for livet " ( " Marked for Life " ) in D2, August 13 th 2010, pp 39-42
Chic with knit " in Verdens Gang Merking gått ut på dato: 100% tull? " ( " Labelling out of Date: 100% pure bollocks
  • Haanes-Larsen
  • Te
Haanes-Larsen, TE (2010) unpublished statistics for Norwegian knitting yarn from Norsk Industri Hovland, K (2010), " Chic with knit " in Verdens Gang, June 30 th 2010, pp 52-53 IWS (1997) http://www.mlm.com.au/work/woolmark/world/history/middle.html IWTO (2009, 2010) http://www.iwto.org/about/History.htm Just Style (2007) http://www.just-style.com/news/awi-completes-woolmark-acquisition_id98719.aspx Klepp, IG et al. (2003), Vask og stell av ull Professional Report no. 7-2003, National Institute for Consumer Research, Norway Klepp, IG (2006), " Merking gått ut på dato: 100% tull? " ( " Labelling out of Date: 100% pure bollocks? " ) in Forbruker-rapporten, no 2 2006, pp 44-45
Saueholdutsikter 2012 " ( " Outlook for Sheep Farming 2012 " ) Landbrukets Utredningskontor
  • Å Klepp
  • Lutnaes
Klepp, Å & Lutnaes, O (2007), " Saueholdutsikter 2012 " ( " Outlook for Sheep Farming 2012 " ) Landbrukets Utredningskontor, rapport 1-2007
Is wool really class dunce?" in EcoTextileNews
  • I G Klepp
Klepp, IG (2010), "Is wool really class dunce?" in EcoTextileNews, April 2010 p 34
Clothing design for sustainable use: Social and technical durability Knowledge Collaboration & Learning for Sustainable Innovation ERSCP-EMSU conference. 25-29.10.2010 Delft, The Netherlands Laitaila Effect of spinning speed on wool shrinkage in wash Getting on with business
  • K Laitala
  • C Boks
Laitala, K & Boks, C (2010), " Clothing design for sustainable use: Social and technical durability ". Knowledge Collaboration & Learning for Sustainable Innovation ERSCP-EMSU conference. 25-29.10.2010 Delft, The Netherlands Laitaila, K & K Eilertsen, K (2009) " Effect of spinning speed on wool shrinkage in wash ". Test report 47-2009. SIFO, Oslo McCullough, S (2010), " Getting on with business " in Beyond the Bale, issue 44, September 2010, pp 2-4
How should we measure? " in EcoTextileNews Key results from IWTO MI Committee survey of grower countries IWTO 79 th Congress Rising Prices Push Italian Spinners Back to Wool " in Women's Wear Daily
  • J Mowbray
Mowbray, J (2010), " How should we measure? " in EcoTextileNews, July 2010, pp18-21 New Merino (2010) http://www.newmerino.com.au/growers_about.html Nicholson, N (2010) Key results from IWTO MI Committee survey of grower countries IWTO 79 th Congress, May 2010 Norilia (2010) http://www.norilia.no/ Olsen, K (2010), " Rising Prices Push Italian Spinners Back to Wool " in Women's Wear Daily, January 19 th 2010, p 9