Hardcore Luxury® -- Always 100% USA

WeatherWool Certified Fine Wool

 

[So … yet another page that will be a permanent work-in-progress!]

 

 

By law, our garments need to be labeled with origin, composition, and our name.  ORIGIN is easy.  All our labor and all our components are always 100% USA.  So, we feel 100% USA is accurate, unambiguous, short and sweet.  But there is no garment-label-length phrase that describes the wool from which we make our garments, let alone all the other standards and requirements we insist upon.

The sheep and wool industries, and the garment industries, are all putting forth various codes of conduct, working conditions, environmental standards, etc.  Terrif … we welcome their ideas.  But I won’t be bound by anyone else’s directives or certifications.  WeatherWool may or may not seek external cred.  From what I’ve seen, we exceed the standards coming down the pike.

I think “100% WeatherWool Certified Fine Wool” makes it clear the Fabric is 100% wool.

But, what is “WeatherWool Certified Fine Wool”?   What kinds of wool will enable us to make Fabrics that meet our specs for weather resistance, durability, comfort, hand, beauty?  And what are the conditions under which that wool is produced on the ranch and processed into garments?

I’m going to put forth here a bunch of info that I believe to be correct.  I’ve talked to a lot of people, read a lot of stuff, worn a lot of wool in a lot of situations.  HOWEVER … the quality of our clothing can only truly be measured by personal experience.  The techy-talk might be interesting, but it’s not what matters.  Subjective, personal experience is king and queen.

  • Microns (thickness) … One of the most important characteristics of wool fiber is thickness, which is measured in microns (millionths of a meter). Other things being equal, the thinner the fiber, the softer (more comfortable) the yarn and fabric.  However, the thinner the fiber, the weaker, and less-durable the fabric.  Also, because thin fibers can be packed together more closely, a garment made from thinner fiber can be warmer and more weather-resistant.  But, of course, other things are not necessarily equal.  The wool shorn from any given sheep will have individual fibers of a range of thicknesses.   Thickness is critical to us, and we won’t use fiber that is too thin or too thick for our intended purposes.  AND, I expect our purposes to broaden.  I hope we make base layers someday, for example, and that fiber will almost certainly differ from the fiber we use now
  • Comfort Factor … The per cent of fibers of a wool sample that are under 30 microns. Many people feel 30 microns is a very significant “itch threshold”.  We seek clips with a high comfort factor, appropriate to the goals of our manufacture
  • Length … The strength of yarn depends in part on the length of the fibers in the yarn. The longer the individual fibers, the greater the friction generated when the yarn is pulled.  But length is also desirable because it is the ends of the wool fiber that cause itching when they jab against the skin.  The itchiness of thicker fibers can be reduced 50% or even more by using longer fiber.  America’s labs do not offer length analysis.  THANKS to our friends in New Zealand for this testing!!  “Staple length” is critical for us
  • Strength … Strength is important to us because stronger fiber makes stronger yarn and more durable Fabric. We require fiber that is unusually strong for its diameter to compensate for requiring more durability than would normally be expected for the fine (slender) fiber we use.  American labs do not currently measure strength, and this is another reason we use the lab in NZ.
  • Crimp … I don’t understand crimp (kinkiness) … I am confused about how you can measure staple length vs crimp … Going to have to check in with Padula again … more research (again) … But crimp is important for the resilience and warmth of the Fabric
  • No paint … Many ranchers apply paint to their sheep for identification. But nobody can be sure the paint will be removed when the wool is scoured.  People always tell us it comes out, but if it doesn’t, it’s our problem.  NO PAINTED FLEECE!
  • No polypropylene … Polypropylene is nearly everywhere in modern life. On ranches, poly tarps and feed bags are very common.  But the bags and tarps inevitably are broken down by use, abuse, weather, sun, time … And fleece will inevitably pick up bits of poly which cannot be effectively removed
  • Cleanliness, hardheads … A raw (greasy) fleece contains a lot of impurities that we cannot use. We select unusually clean fleece, but even so, 30-40% of the weight of the greasy wool is not actually wool.  Lanolin (wool grease) is about 10% of the weight, and is a valuable by-product of cleaning wool.  But there are also stones, sticks, grass, weeds, and various other types of organic debris. It all needs to be removed.  And some weeds are hard on the scouring equipment, and we need to avoid sheep that have been exposed to these weeds

 

Besides the criteria for the fiber itself, we have criteria for the working conditions of the employees on the ranches and at the mills and sew-shops that perform the many tasks necessary to turn the fiber into finished garments.

We have visited the premises of almost all the companies we work with.  We have been told all employees are working legally.  I suppose concealing illegal activity from us would be much easier than concealing it from regulators and insurance companies.  We very much hope that working conditions exceed legal minimums.   We know wages are well in excess of legal minimums, but in the face of foreign competitors whose expenses are a small fraction of our Partners, there is enormous pressure on the garment industry to keep costs down.  The Ranches are long-established family businesses and the workers tend to be owners and/or kin.  Anyone who owns a business will get some rueful amusement regarding laws protecting workers … such laws don’t apply to owners!

I know the Ranchers we work with, and they love their sheep.  Ranching is a way of life for them, usually a multi-generation way of life.   It’s more a question of “what they are” than simply what they do.  But regardless, the sheep need to be treated well … sheep that are stressed or not healthy do not produce well.  Animal welfare is both right and necessary.  Here are some topics that come up regarding sheep welfare:

  • Mulesing … Mulesing is not practiced on the ranches that raise wool for us
  • Lambing … Not sure what to say here except how timing of lambing needs to be balanced and compromised with weather and shearing schedule.  You don’t want to shear too close to lambing because you don’t want to handle a ewe that is near birthing.  But you don’t want to shear when the weather is too cold, either.  The ranchers monitor the sheep extremely closely during lambing and the first weeks after lambing.   Ewes and lambs that need help will get it.  Sometimes, when the weather is unexpectedly severe, ewes will be brought indoors.  Lambs that are having difficulty may also be brought indoors, and perhaps bottle fed.  This is also the time of year when the sheep require the most protection from predators
  • Shearing must be timed with lambing and weather (previous item) and must be done in a way that minimizes stress on the animals. Our Ranchers use highly-experienced professional shearers that can shear a sheep in about two minutes.  The sheep don’t like it, but it’s quick and there is little physical discomfort.  They are released onto the range immediately afterward
  • Docking … Shortly after birth, the tails of the lambs are docked (shortened) for sanitary reasons. Without docking, the area under the tail can quickly become fouled and the lamb will be vulnerable to flystrike, a horrible affliction.  Flies lay eggs in the mess under the tail, and the fly larvae will eat the flesh of the live lamb.  Docking is usually achieved by placing an elastic band around the tail, and the portion of the tail below the band falls off.  The band does not seem to cause discomfort to the lamb
  • Pasturing … the sheep are all pastured, and eat natural forage as much as possible. Sometimes supplemental feed is provided in deep snow or during drought.  But generally, the sheep make do with naturally grown forage.  The land feeds the sheep, and the sheep fertilize the land and stimulate the growth of their feed.  It’s a wonderful cycle!
  • Predator Control … Predators are a huge problem for the Ranchers, and they do what they can to control them. But it’s extremely difficult, and the predators frequently kill wantonly.  The predators will kill, or critically injure the sheep in large numbers, and often eat none of the meat at all.  Just a killing spree.   Coyotes will grab a sheep by the throat, bite, and chase down another sheep.  Sheep that survive predator attacks are often severely traumatized, and their behavior can be permanently altered.  Ewes may no longer care for their lambs, for example.  Ranchers employ guard animals, shepherds, security fencing, professional hunters and trappers and other methods to protect their flocks, but still, predators tend to be the most significant problem a rancher faces
  • Certifications … There are some certifications available for the ranchers and their operations. Some of our ranchers are interested, and some not.  Some ranchers feel that their own methods and knowledge is superior.  The WeatherWool stance is that all these folks know more about sheep and sheep welfare than we do.  We don’t require our ranchers to obtain any external certification, although some are involved.  A couple of the best-known certifications are AWA and RWS

 

We are also interested in the methods of the processing of our wool.  We have discussed our fiber standards, but there is more to consider.  Our Fabrics are always 100% wool.  But in turning greasy wool into finished Fabric and finished garments, other substances come into play. 

  • The fiber is cleaned with various soaps and solvents
  • Most of our fiber is (reactive, not acid) dyed … various chemicals involved and removed
  • Spinning yarn requires lubricants that need to be removed
  • Weaving yarn into Fabric also requires lubricants that need to be removed
  • Finishing the greige Fabric so that it is workable to the tailors also involves the application and removal of various chemicals
  • We have had our Fabric tested for chemical residues, and the results were very good. But, I have not learned what the possible standards are, or what additional compounds we might want to test for

 

There remains a great deal of work to do as we continue to define WEATHERWOOL CERTIFIED FINE WOOL.  We will be updating this page as appropriate.

I hope this discussion gives a sense of what we are trying to do, and why I’m not particularly interested in anyone else’s certification.

 

 29 May 2024 --- Ralph