A new analysis finds more than 50 percent of wool knitwear is blended with synthetic fibers derived from fossil fuels.
The study, entitled Too Hot for Knitwear: Climate Crisis, Biodiversity and Fashion Brands Using Wool and Synthetics, was conducted by the Center for Biological Diversity and Collective Fashion Justice.
It analyzed the Fall 2022 online catalogs of 13 top high-street and luxury fashion brands. The research discovered that while wool is often marketed as a natural and sustainable alternative to synthetic fibers, most wool garments are mixed with synthetic materials, contributing to microplastic pollution and worsening the climate crisis.
The use of wool blended with synthetic materials, along with the likelihood of wool being chemically washed, processed, or dyed with substances impacting biodegradation, negates any potential benefits of using such a “natural” fiber.
The analysis revealed that only 19 percent of the examined wool items contained reduced-impact fibers, most commonly recycled synthetics, which still shed microplastics into the environment.
High street brands were found to be more than twice as likely to use synthetics in wool knitwear, and 26 times more likely to offer 100 percent synthetic knitwear, while more than one-third of analyzed luxury knitwear also used synthetics. Despite the availability of truly sustainable fibers like Tencel that can meet the quality, aesthetic, and performance needs of knitwear, 90 percent of analyzed knitwear items used wool.
“Making knitwear from wool-synthetic blends gets us the worst of both worlds,” Emma Hakansson, founding director at Collective Fashion Justice, said in a statement. “It takes emissions from fossil fuels and enteric methane, biodiversity destruction, plastic pollution, and animal cruelty and wraps them all up in one piece of clothing.”
This analysis follows a report released last year that highlighted wool production’s devastating harms to wildlife and the environment. Shear Destruction: Wool, Fashion and the Biodiversity Crisis found that producing one kilogram of wool can create as much climate pollution as driving more than 100 miles, and one bale of Australian wool uses up to 367 times more land compared to cotton.
The Center for Biological Diversity and Collective Fashion Justice is calling on the fashion industry to increase transparency around the environmental impacts of wool and to shift beyond both fossil-fuel and animal-derived materials.
The organization says a transition away from animal materials is increasingly possible as plant-based, bio-based, recycled, and other innovative and responsible alternatives enter the market.
The study comes as Singapore-based startup, ProjectEx, announced it recently raised $1 million in a Pre-Seed fundraising round to create sustainable and exotic cultivated leather for the luxury market; it is already in talks with leading luxury fashion brands.
The startup boasts and advisory board that includes industry experts such as Albert Koh from the Koh family, who sold Heng Long tannery to LVMH; Stanislas de Quercize, Cartier’s former global CEO; and current board member of luxury brand Christian Louboutin.
“Sustainability is not just a buzzword anymore – it’s an urgent need,” ProjectEx co-founder Adrian Fürstenburg said in a statement.
“At ProjectEx, our goal is to change the way luxury products are produced and, starting with that, have an impact on the rest of the notoriously wasteful fashion industry. Our vision is to create luxury without cruelty, and by using our technology, we know that this is possible,” said co-founder Dr. Viknish Krishnan-Kutty.
ProjectEx says it’s breaking new ground, and will offer a sustainable and ethical alternative to traditional snake, crocodile, alligator, and ostrich skin, eliminating the need for animal slaughter.
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