Report on the „Fibre Seminar“ in POLOLO‘s ShowRoom, Part 3

Wool from animal hair is considered the oldest fibre used by humans – the fur of farm animals was already used in the Stone Age, explained guest speaker Heike Hess, branch manager of the Association of the International Natural Textile Industry (IVN), in the third part of the „Fibre Seminar“ in POLOLO‘s ShowRoom. The two previous articles focusing on leather and cotton can also be found in our blog. We have also filmed the presentation on wool – you can find it at POLOLO on YouTube: “Wool – The ‘air conditioner’ among natural fibres” (German).


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Australia today’s market leader

Humans began spinning yarns about 12,000 years ago. The first sheep breeding is said to have taken place in present-day Iran. Since the 14th century, merino sheep from Spain have enjoyed special esteem, and in the 19th century they were exported to Oceania and South America. According to Hess, wool production fell into crisis in the 20th century with the emergence of synthetic fibres.
With around 87 per cent (2016), Australia leads the 100 or so wool-producing countries, followed far behind by New Zealand with around five per cent, and Argentina and South Africa with four per cent each. The total annual output is around 100,000 tonnes – with a slight downward trend.

Criticism of factory farming

Intensive factory farming obviously raises numerous problems: The routine use of chemical baths (e.g. with arsenic) leads to an accumulation of pesticide residues, i.e. neurotoxins, in the end product. Non-species-specific husbandry and transport to the slaughterhouse are incompatible with animal welfare – the animals are exposed to hunger and thirst, disease and pain, fear and stress. In addition, there is the controversial mulesing, i.e. removal of the skin folds around the tail mostly without anaesthesia and disinfection to prevent infestation with fly maggots.
In the organic livestock world, the declared aim is to keep small, robust herds in a species-appropriate manner. Pesticide baths are not used. Each sheep is sheared individually and mulesing is prohibited in principle – except in Australia.

Animal hair wool: natural fibres with many good qualities

Wool made from animal hair has almost only positive properties. On the one hand, it is characterised by a high water absorption capacity, on the other hand, it dries faster than cotton or hemp. It needs to be washed less often anyway. However, it tends to pilling and felting – it must be washed carefully at low temperatures with special detergents and without spinning.
In principle, the high breathability and good thermal insulation act like an air-conditioning system. According to Hess, natural wool has a high elasticity, is crease-resistant and bacteria-resistant, and is also flame-retardant.

POLOLO Screenshot: Heike Hess gives her lecture on organic wool