This week saw the publication of a critical background paper on concerns surrounding the Product Environmental Footprint Category Rules for Apparel and Footwear from a consortium representing the collaborative international research project Wasted Textiles at Consumption Research Norway SIFO at Oslo Metropolitan University.
The consortium were asked to supply more background information to the EU Commission after a knowledge sharing meeting January 25 hosted by Vice President Timmermans cabinet members and other EU officials from both DG Grow and DG Environment involved in the execution of the EU Textiles strategy, the revision of the Waste Framework Directive, and other Green Deal related policies.
As the first step in supplying more research-based data and knowledge, the paper entitled CRITICAL REVIEW OF PRODUCT ENVIRONMENTAL FOOTPRINT (PEF): WHY PEF CURRENTLY FAVORS SYNTHETIC TEXTILES (PLASTICS) AND THEREFORE ALSO FAST FASHION was sent to the meeting-participants this week, and the authors have decided to make the paper publicly available through the Clothing Research website, and can be accessed at the bottom of this page.
During the meeting, which was mainly about Extended Producer Responsibility, Professor in Clothing and Sustainability at Consumption Research Norway SIFO at Oslo Metropolitan University, Ingun Grimstad Klepp, brought up concerns surrounding PEF and PEFCR that could be addressed with the right policy measures to ensure better data collection for the use- and end-of-use phase. These concerns are based on research from three longitudinal research projects at SIFO (Wasted Textiles, CHANGE and Lasting), under the auspices of the Clothing Research umbrella. This research was what led to the meeting with several EU officials, who were all genuinely interested in how academic research can contribute to better policy measures.
This paper is the first in a series of three that will be delivered to the participants of the meeting and will be made available on this website, related to EU’s textile strategy. The research consortium behind the critical papers, welcome EU’s ambitious strategy for apparel and footwear; however, the same research consortium sees that unless one takes a holistic view which includes the use and disposal of products, with a view from what actually ends up in the waste and how quickly – true sustainability-measures are in danger of supplying misleading information. By capturing this research and making it available, it is possible to spur policy measures that address the issue of over-production head on.
In conclusion, the paper states: “In essence, one can therefore say that PEFCR for clothing favors plastic due to a lack of political decisiveness on how to measure natural versus synthetic materials, together with giving the FF (fast fashion) industry power in the development of PEFCR and choice of underlying data. Fast fashion will remain in fashion if those who have the most to gain from it are making the rules.” The first critical paper is authored by Ingun Grimstad Klepp, Kirsi Laitala, Lisbeth Løvbak Berg (all SIFO, OsloMet), Tone Skårdal Tobiasson (NICE Fashion/UCRF), Jens Måge (Norwegian Waste Management and Recycling Association) and Kerli Kant Hvass (Revaluate/Aalborg University).
Two articles from Clothing Research at Consumption Research Norway have been accepted by the journal Fibers and are accessible online. The two articles are entitled Reducing plastic: Opportunities and obstacles for coarser wool in consumer goods and Natural and sustainable? Consumers’ textile fiber preferences.
More than half of the team in the Clothing Research group have contributed to these two chapters: Kirsi Laitala, Anna Schytte Sigaard (author on both articles), Lisbeth Løvbak Berg and Ingun Grimstad Klepp – the article on reducing plastics is co-authored with three from the University of Bielsko-Biala. In the first article, findings are presented that show that on a product level, the many inherent properties of wool create opportunities for product development and sustainability improvements, and that using coarser wool represents an opportunity for replacing plastics in many applications. This was done using a SWOT (Strengths-Weaknesses-Opportunities-Threats) analysis of results from a desktop study and interviews with producers of products made from wool, as well as policy documents relating to wool, waste, textiles, and plastic.
The second article looks at synthetic vs. natural fibers, consumer preferences, their view on sustainability and more importantly, consumers’ willingness to degrow their consumption. Interestingly, not only do Norwegian consumers prefer wool, they also believe that wool is the most sustainable choice of fiber, with polyester being the least. This is the exact opposite of what today’s most common measuring tool, the Higg Material Sustainability Index, tells us.
This article also offers proof that perceptions of high sustainability regarding fibers are negatively correlated with reduced consumption: “Our study suggests that a continued focus on material substitution and other technological measures for reducing climate change will impede the move toward sustainability in the textile sector.” The article raises the very pertinent question of how the perspectives of techno- and eco-centrism impact Norwegian consumers’ fiber preferences and perceptions, and how does this, in turn, affect their clothing consumption?
Technocentric or eco-centric?
On the one hand, green growth aims to de-couple growth in the textile industry from a reliance on virgin materials by keeping already-produced materials in circulation for as long as possible. In contrast to this technocentric perspective, the eco-centric degrowth narrative holds at its core ideas such as scarcity, reduced consumption, and lifestyle sacrifices at a time of shrinking resources for the Global North. “The eco-centric approach does not disregard technology but holds that we cannot rely solely on new and better technology. Instead, it focuses primarily on behavior change and argues that a paradigm shift is necessary to transform conventional fashion production and consumption.”
The respondents showed a high preference for natural fibers, especially wool, which was preferred by 72% of them, followed by cotton (63%), alpaca (38%), organic cotton (34%), linen (30%), silk (23%), bamboo viscose (22%), viscose (10%), and, finally, synthetics at the bottom of the scale, with polyester being preferred by only two percent, followed by recycled polyester (2%) and acrylic (1%). All the natural fibers were more popular than the manmade ones, and out of the manmade fibers, the synthetics were least popular, even recycled polyester. Almost half of the respondents said that they avoided polyester (47%) and acrylic (46%), and 35% avoided even recycled polyester.
Fiber preference was positively correlated with reduced clothing consumption, so that those who preferred more natural fibers had reduced their clothing consumption more than those who preferred synthetic fibers, which is interesting. This fits with the eco-centric perspective of degrowth and reduced consumption. However, it seems that believing that a fiber is sustainable, negatively affects consumption reduction. An explanation for this could be that if the fibers used to produce clothing are considered sustainable, reducing consumption is not necessary, which gives a rebound effect that could be seen as counter-productive, from an eco-centric perspective.
Therefore, consumers’ willingness to reduce consumption is important and may be weakened if the focus continues to be on fibers and materials, instead of reduced production and consumption. Read the article here (mdpi.com).
The wool-related article, does, to a certain degree, focus on the raw materials, and replacing one raw material (synthetic) with a natural fiber. To investigate the use of coarse wool, mainly from Polish sheep, product groups that do not require the softness of Merino wool were examined. Many of these products are currently made of plastic, mostly in the form of synthetic fibers. In addition, many of them are single-use, such as sanitary products and plant pots, but also sound-absorbing acoustic panels. The study found that making this switch, is dependent on local infrastructure and working small-scale enterprises. A shift to small-scale and local resource utilization requires systemic change on several levels: Here the findings show that policy can incentivize material usage transitions, but that these tools are little employed currently.
As synthetic textiles are an important, but often forgotten part of the increasing plastic waste problem, this article contributes to lift up innovative ideas to reduce our reliance on fossil-based materials. These textiles contain environmental toxins added during the processing of fiber and fabric, and through microfiber shedding synthetic textiles contribute up to 35% of the released microplastics which have been shown to end up in our lungs, oceans, animals, and even placentas.
A common factor is a focus on wool utilization as a waste management process and in non-textile products, rather than using the material in high-value textile products. The different aspects related to the coarse wool, were first placed in the SWOT table, then grouped into themes: Properties and product performance, Price and availability, Sustainability, and Regulations and policy. As common in SWOT analysis, one aspect can be both a positive and a negative aspect, e.g., coarser wool being more labor-intensive to use means that it creates more jobs, but at the same time it makes it more costly, as will be examined in the following.
The findings were divided into internal factors, which define the strengths and weaknesses of the internal environment, in this case, the material itself and its value chain directly, and external factors, defining opportunities and threats, that are determined by the external environment operated in, i.e., the overall market and competition. Efforts to utilize and valorize surplus, coarser wool, range from creating wool powders and keratin, fertilizers, substrates for biogas production, regenerating fibers from waste keratin, slug-repelling wool pellets, insulation, water purification to bio-composites.
The lack of focus on surplus wool
As a by-product, the wool to some extent becomes invisible in that the wool is mainly disposed of on the farms directly and therefore does not enter into any formal waste management system. When the EU Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles does not even mention local wool – or the possibilities that wool and other local EU fibers hold – but discusses local solutions solely as future potential recycling plants, this can be challenged through the results shown in this article. In order to replace more plastic with wool, different types of wool need to be used where they are best suited. This also raises the question of how much under-utilized or surplus wool is actually out there?
In addition, using the coarse wool represents an opportunity to replace particularly problematic plastic products. The study found that several of the examined products are today mainly made of plastic, including the products where plastic cannot be recycled and therefore represent a waste problem. It is unlikely that all such plastic can be replaced by wool, but it is nevertheless important to develop alternatives and at the same time exploit available natural materials: “It is important to remember that the extensive use of plastic is relatively new in human history and that a range of solutions existed before these products invaded the market.”
For LCA-based tools and category rules, there is a central idea of a “functional unit”. How this will function in the ongoing work with EU’s PEFCR (Product Environmental Footprint Category Rules), is based on the number of days of “usability”.
A “functional unit” is most often described for paint. It is not the liter of paint that has an environmental impact to be reconned with, it is, however, a painted wall one year that is the “functional unit”. With a “good” paint as opposed to a “less good” paint you can paint less often and therefore you need less. The functional unit, is what the paint is supposed to do, keep the walls protected and good looking for a certain period of time. This is at the very core of a life cycle assessment. It defines what the environmental footprint is. So far so good. Let’s then move on to apparel.
The CHANGE masterclass seminar held at the Royal Danish Academy in Copenhagen September 30th 2022 hosted another interesting occasion. This was the launch of KLOTHING – Centre for Apparel, Textiles & Ecology Research. The first Danish research center on fashion, textiles and sustainability lead by me, Associate Professor, PhD, Else Skjold, who has been central in developing the wardrobe method since the beginning of my PhD study (Skjold, 2014).
Text: Else Skjold/KLOTHING
In CHANGE, I am responsible for the WP5 regarding the continuous recruiting of junior- and senior researchers for further development and consolidation of wardrobe research, and dissemination of new knowledge to both research, industry, and policy makers. With the newly established centre, wardrobe research will have a strong outpost and knowledge hub in Scandinavia to support and strengthen the WP5, the work being conducted at SIFO in Oslo, and the broadening out of wardrobe research altogether.
The name is a result of the dialogue between myself and professor, PhD Kate Fletcher, who is also part of the CHANGE project, and currently affiliated with the Royal Danish Academy (among others). With the title KLOTHING, the centre is rooted in a Scandinavian context, since the spelling of clothing with a “K” stems from Norse language. The title thereby suggests how research departing from exactly Denmark and Scandinavia might contribute to effecting a CHANGE. Therefore, the founding pillars of the centre are focusing on the core value of the Scandinavian welfare states that everyone should have equal opportunity, which is mirrored in the Scandinavian traditions for user-inclusive and collaborative design that was developed throughout the 20th Century.
The center is placed at the Royal Danish Academy which covers the Design School, the Architect School and the Conservation School. This implicates that the knowledge production of the center has a basis in the three respective areas of research, artistic development work, and practice. This means that the center will produce knowledge in the shape of both academic writing and research-led design development work at the highest artistic level, thereby testing and validating how a circular and sustainable future might appear in physical design artifacts and prototypes.
KLOTHING is affiliated with the Institute of Architecture and Design that represents the full scale from ceramics to clothing and textiles, and to furniture, interior, and architecture. It is thereby embedded in a research- and education environment strongly affected by the iconic Danish Modern Furniture traditions deriving from the 1950’s and 1960’s, and represented by designers such as Børge Mogensen, Kaare Klint, and Finn Juhl. It is particularly in this modernist movement and its functionalist tradition for investigating user-behavior and -needs and the use properties of design objects for various occasions (i.e. storage for clothing etc.), that there is a strong tie to the CHANGE project and its interest in occasions and categories of clothing designed for specific purposes.
These traditions for a sensitivity towards use and use properties of design are interpreted in KLOTHING as an important foundation for restoring the fashion- and textiles sectors’ ability to deliver products of high and long-lasting use value. Going back to the aspirations of the welfare state of providing equal opportunityfor everyone, it is obvious that in a current context this will imply a deep sensitivity for various user groups and their needs and aspirations, across gender, race, age and other important parameters that are not recognized in the current fashion system.
It is here that wardrobe research is a key driver for understanding how design creates value in practices of maintenance and use, and in circular services such as resale, rental, re-design, adjustment tailoring and similar. Wardrobe research could be seen as crucial in the years to come, as there is a need for building eco-systems, logistics and new practices for a more circular and sustainable fashion- and textiles sector that is centred on long-time use of resources. Basically, wardrobe research is key because circularity requires skills, practices, understandings, logistics and value systems that are based around use rather than on fashion trends. But the ecosystems political and economic incentives for establishing this do not exist and are complex to build up.
This is why KLOTHING will be tied up to traditions for collaborative design approaches and co-design developed from the 1970’s and onwards in Scandinavia that go well in hand with the cooperative business model represented by large Danish companies such as COOP and Arla. These business models were built on the idea that together we can do more. Typically, they consist of many small enterprises and stakeholders with a shared infrastructure for knowledge-building, know-how and revenue creation. Like a small welfare state within the welfare state. This template for collaborative research means that the center will primarily work action-based and in collaborative settings across sciences and sectors/stakeholders. This work has already started, as KLOTHING is embedded in the politically funded research partnership on circular economy for plastics and textiles affiliated with the Innovation Fund Denmark, TraCE. Here Jesper Richardy is part of the team.
Ultimately, the ambitions of the CHANGE project of creating an actual impact at more systemic level is also embedded in the ideas behind KLOTHING. This is found in the strong inspiration of the movement propelled by the manifesto of the Nordic Cuisine from 2004. What they basically did was to reject the focus on French cooking tradition that had pushed local produce and culinary practices into almost oblivion. They believed in a much more locally rooted practice that respected natures’ boundaries and seasons. In welfare and balance for both human and non-human species. In elevating local resources and in making them precious through skilled craftmanship at the highest level. All in collaboration between citizens, politicians, researchers, industry, and other stakeholders for the common good.
This could seem as a highly protective and inward-looking project. But what happened was that they inspired local craftmanship and resourcefulness – a decentering of what good cuisine was all about – and thereby stimulated tools and supporting philosophy for a more caring and rooted practice together with chefs all around the globe. Just like this movement, KLOTHING seeks to inspire new landscapes of fashion and textiles that are decentered, inclusive and respectful of plural voices and aesthetics, whilst respecting planetary boundaries and principles of biodiversity. This line of thinking was initiated in the master programme that was launched September 2020 at the Royal Danish Academy; Fashion, Clothing & Textiles; New Landscapes for Change.
The hope going forward is to reach out and invite fellow researchers and students from other learning environments, as well as industry partners, policy makers and other stakeholders, in the understanding that no one can make a CHANGE on their own.
We throw away enormous amounts of clothing, and most of it contains polyester and other plastics. We need more knowledge to be able to meet the new EU requirement for separate textile collection by 2025, say researchers.
Text Kjersti Lassen/Consumption Research Norway (SIFO)
After cleaning out your wardrobe, you might be left with a pair of trousers with a huge hole in the knee, a sweater you stopped wearing a long time ago or a dress you never really ended up wearing. Where should you dispose of the clothes you want to get rid of?
In Norway you may put whole garments that are clean and functional for a new user in a container for clothing collection, but what about the damaged clothes?
– There are few other options than throwing them in the residual waste, says PhD candidate holder Anna Schytte Sigaard, part of Consumption Research Norway’s Clothing Research team.
Clothing disposal after 2025
But this will not be an option quite soon. Textiles are prioritized in the EU’s circular economy strategy, and by 2025, separate textile collection will be mandatory, also in Norway.
– In order to find out how this is to be organized, we need to know what types of textiles are actually thrown into the municipal waste or end up in other waste or collection streams, says Sigaard.
She is involved in the research project Wasted Textiles, which studies the fate of all the textiles that go out of use. Why do we throw away clothes, what do we throw away, and what do we choose to keep? What is the condition of the clothing that is thrown away, and how much is made of synthetic materials, i.e. plastic?
Because what will happen to the textiles that are collected? Can they be recycled in some way, so that the materials can be used further?
– Then we first have to find out what the clothes are made of. Material recycling is difficult, and with mixed materials it is almost impossible. The next product is almost always of poorer quality, she says.
Method: Deep dive into our waste
To find answers, the researchers have gone through our textile waste: from municipal waste, from recycling facilities where people themselves deliver clothes as waste and from apparel and textile receiving bins where interior textiles, clothes and shoes are delivered to UFF (Humana People to People) or Fretex (Salvation Army).
– We had to start by developing the picking analysis method, says Sigaard, which they did together with Mepex, a consulting company for waste and recycling. Dressed in protective suits and masks, they went through a total of 3,500 kilos of waste, some of it soiled, smelly and ruined, while other things were as good as new. They have looked at different types of textiles, fiber content and the condition of the garments.
– We found a surprising number of garments with the price label still on them, also at the waste recovery stations. People have thrown away completely new garments.
– Everything from the municipal waste, however, was ruined, as the textiles were mixed with food waste and everything else, and impossible to assess. Clothes in the municipal waste have no use value, she says.
Surprised by the amount of plastics
Two-thirds of the textiles examined contained some or mainly synthetic fibers, i.e. non-renewable materials or plastics, depending on how one likes to categorize synthetics. Polyester is the largest category, but acrylic, elastane and nylon were also prevalent.
The rest, a third of the textiles, were natural materials or what we call renewable materials, such as cotton, wool and silk. Or viscose, which is also plant-based and degradable, but has undergone intensive chemical processing.
– We were surprised by the large proportion of plastic, as we included all textiles, and found a lot of bed linen and towels, which are most often made of cotton. Still, there is an inordinate amount synthetic altogether, says Sigaard.
If we had only included clothing, there would have been an even greater proportion of plastic. Over two-thirds of all materials in textiles produced today are synthetic.
There is also reason to believe that the proportion of plastic clothing binned will increase in a few years. There is a constant growth in the production of synthetic textiles, and the clothing bought today will be thrown away in a few years. The clothes we find in the trash today have of course been bought back in time.
Analyzing over 3000 discarded clothing-items
All clothing has a label showing the fiber content. This is required by law. But how precise is this label? Investigations in other countries show that many clothes are mis-labelled and contain a greater proportion of synthetic materials than what is stated on the labels. Does this also apply in Norway?
To test this, the Wasted Textile researchers have borrowed a FabriTell fiber scanner – a small, hand-held machine that uses near-infrared analysis technology to identify the fiber composition in textiles. The researchers scanned a selection of the textiles that had been collected from the 28 households. They chose everything that was labelled as mixed fibers or not marked at all.
– We found a lot that was mislabeled. For example, t-shirts or hoodies may be labeled as 100 percent cotton, while the scanner shows that the ribbed edges are mixed with synthetic materials. This is within the law, but gives incorrect information, says Sigaard.
We need to reduce production
All knowledge that emerges in Wasted Textiles can be used in the work to fulfill both policy issues and other incumbent requirements the new textile strategy for circular economy in the EU will spearhead. Denmark will start a separate textile collection system as early as June 2023, and hopefully Norway will follow suit in 2025.
Overproduction of clothing is made possible due to the large amount of polyester and other cheap plastic materials used by the apparel industry. This creates enormous amounts of textile waste that leach microplastics and chemicals. The waste often ends up as waste mountains in the Global South, as we have seen in the media from Chile and Ghana.
– The most important thing is to reduce the amount of waste. For this to happen, all actors in the value-chain must agree, or be forced to do so. As of now, the industry is only concerned with recycling opportunity, not reducing production, says Sigaard. In other words: Business as usual.
Fashion met cultural history in the project VikingGold, and the two were woven together into a beautiful wool fabric, that found its way to museum exhibits and Norwegian national tv as the most sustainable fabric of the future.
During the annual event Oslo Runway, the Norwegian actress Iselin Shumba debuted as a catwalk model on a runway set up in a factory deep in the Norwegian forests close to the Swedish border. By chance I was at the event. By chance I was wearing the Oleana jacket I had worn on Norwegian national TV for the episode of Norway’s Sewing Bee (Symesterskapet) when Iselin Shumba was the “client” who wanted a jacket or coat she could wear on chilly days when she does her weekly “sit in for the climate” in front of the Parliament building in Oslo. She wanted the fabric to be “the most sustainable possible”, which was why the Norwegian national TV had called me. I’ll come back to that.
Let’s unravel the threads back in time and explore what fascinates people with the fabric.
The story starts with the project Valuing Norwegian Wool, led by Consumption Research Norway, before they became part of Oslo Metropolitan University, and financed by the Norwegian Research Council. One of the aims of the project was to explore a label of origin for Norwegian wool. “Norwool” had been trademarked by a Swedish company, an American outerwear company had done the same with “Norwegian Wool”. In addition, a Norwegian yarn company selling cheap Chinese-spun wool of uncertain origin called their product Viking Yarn.
To our big surprise, we discovered that one of the sponsors of the British-based Campaign for Wool was “Viking Wool of Norway.” The label was even owned by a subsidiary of the Norwegian farmers’ coop, Nortura. Why hadn’t they as project-partners informed us? The truth was rather obvious. The label was ugly as sin. It had been developed in the UK to sell carpet-wool, and as such, worked well. But for wool textiles and fashion? Curtis Wool Direct, who had developed the “Viking Wool of Norway” label, did everything in their power to launch it in Norway, including enlisting now King Charles, then the Prince of Wales, but Nortura put their foot down. Luckily.
However, this resulted in an idea, when the opportunity arose to apply for funding from KreaNord, a fund under the auspices of the Nordic Council of Ministers for cultural projects. What if we lifted up the cultural textile heritage from the Vikings, looking at the Viking women’s role in this trader and explorer culture, later explored by Michele Hayeur Smith in “The Valkyries’ Loom: The Archeology of Cloth Production and Female Power in the Atlantic”? Read more about this book here. This was the historic beauty and heritage we highlighted in the application, and which won the funding. We decided to call the project VikingGold.
In the project there were several partners: Consumption Research Norway (Oslo Metropolitan University), the Museum of Cultural History (University of Oslo), Nordic Initiative Clean & Ethical Fashion, and the Norwegian Fashion Institute, who took the lead. The project lasted from the autumn of 2013 until the autumn of 2015. However, VikingGold had long-term impact that was hard to envision from the outset.
Important for the project was to create meeting points for historical expertise, raw material suppliers, and the finished goods industry and designers. These represented people and groups who had not earlier cooperated. Representatives from the industry and designers got access to historical archives and got to see preserved textiles from the Viking age, and gain knowledge about the Vikings’ clothing and textile production. Marianne Vedeler, the archaeologist in the project, was simultaneously working on a reconstruction of the tunic from Lendbreen, Norway’s oldest garment from around year 300 AD, and we chose this as a starting-point. The tunic is about 500 years older than the Viking age, but diamond twill, the weaving-pattern, was widely used in the Viking age as well. The selected tunic was thoroughly examined and well documented, and this made it possible for us to be able to show both a reconstruction (described here) and our industrially produced fabric at the same time. Our collaborators, from sheep farmers to designers, were involved in the decision-making process and the discussions themselves, and were important for enhancing competence and understanding of what compromises must be made when a historical material is to be produced in a modern way.
We had to choose a breed living in Norway today. For the reconstruction, Old Norwegian (Gammelnorsk) sheep wool were used, while the VikingGold project used Old Norse Spæl and Modern Spæl (short-tailed) to get two different shades. Ingvild Espelien at Selbu Spinning Mill took responsibility for the collection of the 200 kilos of wool from two local herds and it was also she who sorted the wool into two shades and cleaned it, and also separated some of the coarser guard hairs out of the fleeces.
Half of the wool was sent to Hillesvåg Woolen Mill, to spin the weft yarn. Selbu Spinning Mill spun the warp yarn, and both were spun with a z twist, though the warp was a little looser spun. The thickness of the yarn corresponded to 6 nm, as 7 nm was on the border of what the machines could spin. This may appear as a minor detail, however the trade-off between being closest to the original yarn in the tunic, and getting a good raw-material with the wool and the technology we have today, was important.
Ingvild sent the warp yarn first to Krivi Vev, and in order for the yarn in the weft to be as compatible as possible, it was weighed before Hillesvåg started their spinning. No one at Krivi Vev had seen the original fabric, and worked from drawings and pictures in order to set up the pattern and density. A characteristic of older textiles is often a lack of symmetry in the patterns. Krivi Vev chose to clean up the pattern a little, and also chose to distribute darker and lighter portions evenly in the weave to counteract clear stripe patterns. The yarn initially seemed more difficult to weave than it actually was. The actual weaving of the 200 meters therefore went quickly and easily. See how it went here.
Krivi Vev has no finishing facilities at Tingvoll, and usually sends their fabrics to Sweden for these types of processes. However, Sjølingstad Woolen Mill museum (which is part of the Vest-Agder museum) assumed responsibility for the last finishing, and although the fabric was a bit too wide for their machine, this went well. We chose a very simple and easy finish, although some of the designers had requested a felted, waulked or fulled fabric (see below for how this will now be resolved). For anyone who had seen the fabric before and after treatment, it was striking how much softer and smoother the finished fabric was than when it was newly woven.
Parallel to the actual fabric production, a design competition was announced for a select group of Norwegian and Icelandic designers – and the invited sketches were then exhibited as part of Ta det personlig (Take it personally) exhibition at the Historical Museum in Oslo, where both the original Lendbre tunics, the reconstruction of the tunic and VikingGold were presented with sketches from five Norwegian and two Icelandic designers.
Among these, we picked out three who got several meters of fabric and sewed outfits that were shown during the Oslo Wool Day in 2015 (Sissel Strand, Connie Riiser Berger and Elisabeth Stray Pedersen). These were also shown at an exhibition at the Coastal Museum in Florø (Exhibit Tradition and trend: Norwegian wool in all times).
In addition, two designers have designed specific items, using the fabric: Malin Håvarstein and Rebeca Herlung, alongside Kim Holte, who received the material and has dyed it blue for her Viking re-enactment, and both Ingun Klepp and Ingvild Espelien have sewn dresses using the fabric.
Krivi Vev has woven a similar fabric afterwards with ordinary crossbred wool, and designer Marianne Mørck made a collection using this material. Also, the furniture producer Nuen has made a series of chairs with this same fabric. They have adopted a fibershed approach, which means they source their materials within a given radius. Read more about Fibershed here.
After the project ended, there was still rolls of the fabric left over. The question remained what to do with these. During 2020, I was contacted by the Norwegian national broadcaster, NRK, who had the production rights for the British reality-concept Sewing Bee. They had decided that the focus for the up-coming season would be sustainability, and one of the episodes would look at the ‘most sustainable fabric of the future’. They clearly envisioned a ‘new-gen’ material, and wondered if perhaps fungi or waste from agriculture could be the feed-stock for such a material. They had already tried to get hold of materials, but had failed miserably. My suggestion was to use the VikingGold left-overs. And to turn the story-telling around into a new discourse that said “how the most sustainable fabric is not science-fiction, but rather reinventing the past”.
NRK loved the twist.
So, a few months later, I found myself on the set, explaining to the contestants, the three celebrities hosting the show and ‘the client’ Iselin Shumba about the sheep, the wool, the process and the fabric – and why it is the epitome of sustainability. All the contestants received a material-piece in order to trial sewing, as some of the designers we had worked with the material, said it did take some getting used to and offered some resistance. When the show aired a year later, the fantastic results rolled across the tv-screen and the winning coat/jacket was chosen by the Shumba, who posted pictures of her wearing it over and over again on Instagram. Which, of course, made it even more sustainable. However, how happy she was with the result I didn’t hear before much later, when she debuted as a catwalk-model a year later.
During a conference at Selbu Spinning mill in October 2022, an American student from Rauland Academy for Traditonal Art and Folk Music, presented work with fulling (or waulking) textiles with old techniques. We decided rather on a whim, to send him 10 meters of the VikingGold material to experiment with. He will be doing both “foot-fulling” and a trial with a wooden box he has reconstructed from old instructions, and document this for further research. So far he has reported that the VikingGold material offered much resistance to be fulled.
As we round up this story, how Iselin Shumba has chosen to use social media to promote climate change, to make a cultural sustainability aspect the main story – is stellar.
In the middle of Advent 2022, Vilde, Kirsi and Ingun traveled to Uruguay. Irene was already there with her family, and the trip was well planned in collaboration with Irene, who lives in Portugal, but is from Uruguay, and Lucrecia who works in Montevideo. Part of the background for the trip was the testing of the wardrobe method that had been carried out in Norway, Portugal and Uruguay. This was with good help from students there who also actively participated in a seminar. Text Ingun Grimstad Klepp
Warm reception in a warm country
We spent the first weekend planning the seminar on clothing and the environment which was to take place on Monday and Tuesday, as a collaboration between CHANGE and the local university. On Sunday we went for a long walk in the city where large parts of the streets were filled with a market. Here, most things were for sale, from pets such as rabbits, hamsters and tropical fish, to objects that we would hardly have found a market for in Norway, such as remote controls, parts for electronics, eye glasses, etc. There were some new clothes, mostly of a simpler nature and many used clothes. There was very little textile craftsmanship to be seen with a couple of exceptions of crocheted stuffed animals and toddler clothes.
We also visited various shops for used clothes, both permanent and pop-up shops. The system for reselling clothes was quite different from Norway, where humanitarian organizations’ collection stations are everywhere. There is no public collection of textiles, nor “textile towers” by private humanitarian organizations. In contrast, used clothes are sold in the markets. Some of the clothes that were sold in the second-hand shops were bought at the market and then they were resold somewhat more expensive.
The extensive reuse of most things that we experienced on this first day was confirmed again and again in everything from interiors and buildings to bicycles. We were given various explanations that ranged from a mentality among most people, to politics and economics. Being content with what you have and not always wanting something else and more, was central. Uruguayans are, in their own and others’ eyes, a pragmatic people who are satisfied without a lot, as long as they have their “matte”, the local green tea that is drunk hot everywhere, most carry a thermos under the arm.
Another explanation was that the political investment in sustainability, for example in the form of large-scale conversion to renewable energy, was so central. The last explanation has to do with economics and economic differences. More poverty, and also more difficult economic conditions for the middle class, was repeated by several. That lower costs for labor compared to new products affects the amount that is reused and repaired is almost self-evident, but it was interesting to have several and more complex explanations for the same phenomenon.
CHANGE Seminar at The Faculty of Architecture, Design and Urbanisme FADO
On December 5th and 6th, the Uruguayan partners in the CHANGE project organized a seminar in Montevideo. Prácticas de diseño y consumo de indumentaria: Miradas y acciones hacia un desarrollo sustentable. (Read more in Spanish here.) Some of the project’s researchers from Norway and Portugal exchanged experiences with the local community. The seminar took place at the beautiful building of the Faculty of Architecture, UdelaR, and was organized by Lucrecia de León and Lucía Lopez from the local Industrial Design School.
Just coming to this building was an experience in itself. FADO is one of the sixteen faculties that make up the University of the Republic. The building is from 1948, its headquarters were inaugurated on Artigas Boulevard, in the Rodó Park of the city, it is one of the most characteristic buildings of the city of Montevideo, designed by the architects Román Fresnedo Siri and Mario Muccinelli. They had just completed an extension and we were in a newer part of the faculty. Among other things, apparel was taught – and therefore not fashion as in many design schools. This probably also contributed to the fact that professionally it was easy for us to “find the tone” with teachers and students there.
During the first day, speakers shared local experiences and efforts to reduce the environmental impact of the sector. These included perspectives from the academic, public, and private sector. There were both teachers, students and entrepreneurs among the approx. 50 the audience.
Federico Baráibar from the Ministry of the Environment talked about local data and policies and the lack thereof. As many other places, there is actually not much focus on clothing in environmental politics. He spoke mostly about textile waste in the management and policy of waste in Uruguay. He presented what they know about different types of textile waste. An estimate is 20-30 000 tons of textiles household waste in Uruguay per year. Not surprising, there is more focus on plastic packaging. Compared to other waste streams, textiles as a product group, is small and does not receive particular attention, policies usually emerge based on actual problems. In his opinion, it is difficult for a country in development to let a government interfere in private consumption to reduce consumption and waste production.
In 2019, they had a new policy where they wanted to apply 1000% tax on certain disposable objects, but it was not passed, so they there will be added 180% tax in a law (not yet applied). Tax was also the way import of second-hand textiles was regulated. It is not banned to import second-hand clothes to Uruguay, but just that the taxes paid are the same as for new clothes. We did hear from others several times that only Chile allowed import of used clothing, but it is possible that this was import without tax they then meant. There is doubtless a lot we do not know about the policy for used apparel in Uruguay, South America (and other places), and very interesting that ban is not the only way to restrict and reduce.
Lucía López, EUCD (Institute of Design, University of the Republic Uruguay,) presented her Project #textourgente, which uses textile upcycling and print as a way to activate social change and attitudes towards clothing. Her focus is upcycling as a way to activate the user as opposed to the passive user. She used text printed on clothes as a means to upcycle and generate reflection, in order to help people to wear a previously owned garment with pride. She explained how emotional design depends on the personal approach of the designer and the target group, what is emotional cannot be standards, but must emerge from the community that is engaged.
Sofía Dinello presented her thesis about active life of clothing and emotional design and Gabriela Pintos (FCEA) shared her view about consumer behavior in a circular economy from the perspective of economic theory.
In a second session focused on action, Renata Casanova presented the circular economy program of Ceprodih, an NGO dedicated to support women in a vulnerable social position. They use donated textile in teaching sewing and entrepreneurship. Much of what they work with is reutilization of PVC plastics. This was done in textile workshops, making accessories that they sell through the workshop and collaborate with a network of entrepreneur women in circular economy programs. They work with businesses and hospitals, and the waste they generate. What their partners could not themselves use, was transformed. In this way logos and colors could be kept and used. We visited this company a few days later and had the opportunity to discuss with her. More under Day 2.
Josefina García and Laura Moreira shared their efforts towards circular design in the local denim brand Rotunda, This was ambitious work with creating guidelines for circularity in design with jeans. Based on design and circularity principles from Ellen MacArthur. They emphasize durability: first guideline of denim is to be in perfect condition after 30 washes. Screen print washing instructions on the pockets instead of tags to not lose the information. 80 % of fibres are organic cotton and 20 % is recycled cotton. They emphasize trims, not using the processes that requires chemicals, raw colors of the metals, the latter is hard without changing the look of the jeans. Trying to overcome the things that are associated with jeans, but not necessary. This includes buttons and other things that can be taken off. They had a pilot project with a RFID label with a QR code for information for the consumer stage and forward. Aim is for each item to have a personal code.
Alejando Esperanza presented their rapidly growing resale business VOPERO, an app used for resale of second-hand clothes that look like new. The most surprising with this concept is how it differs from other reuse-apps. Here there is little «ideology», rather an emphasis on volume. VOPERO employs 140 people. They approve about 50% of garments that are sent to them. The remainder is either returned to the owner or donated to local companies, if the owner does not want it back. They add about 1500 new garments to the app each day. Everything they sell must go through a quality check, but the inspection of each item must take less than 30 seconds to be cost-effective. The company does not wash or have time for significant repairs. One of the reasons for not accepting garments is related to smell. He explained that many customers are people that do not normally buy second-hand items but can save a bit of money by selecting things that still look like new. Quality photos of the accepted items is important and the price is about 20-30% lower than a similar new item, so they prefer brands that are recognized.
After his presentation, there was a lively discussion. Many people thought a lot about whether it was right or not to sell only clothes that looked new – as used. There was a great deal of what they received that they did not want to sell and which they then donated further internally in Uruguay. The discussion and the temperature in it were interesting in themselves. Why does this arouse so much opposition? Why must used clothes also be part of a “used” style? It is also a question of whether similar concepts exist elsewhere and whether this will eventually be exported.
During the second day, focused on wardrobe studies as a tool to understand clothing consumption in the context of the environmental crisis, international and local CHANGE researchers shared their past and current research supported by wardrobe methods. These included:
Lucrecia de León (Wardrobe metabolism) presented her Master’s thesis work that was started by analysis of the wardrobe metabolism of two women, herself and another student. Later, the analysis was continued to a larger sample of similar women. 20 women started but only 8 finished. Some findings were that the new clothes were used more frequently and about 10% of items were unused. During the second week, wearing the clothes was planned, and inactive garments from the “RAM memory” were tried to be taken into use. Some garments were not possible to get activated, for example due to size.
Ingun Klepp (Wardrobe studies: History and variations) talked about the history of wardrobe studies as a method and gave examples of different methods that had been used at SIFO.
Kirsi Laitala (Wardrobe audits: Asking people what they don’t know) presented a method for the quantitative version of wardrobe studies, often called wardrobe audit. She introduced some advantages and disadvantages of the method and presented suggestions for improving the quality of collected data. Some examples from the international wardrobe audit were given to illustrate some of the points.
Vilde Haugrønning (Wardrobes in Change: Counting garments based on occasions) gave an overview of the field work she is doing in her PhD.
Irene Maldini (Assessing the impact of sustainable design strategies through wardrobe methods) held a lecture that many design school would find highly useful.
The next session was dedicated to Wardrobe methods in Uruguay, which included both already carried out studies, and plans.
Micaela Cazot, Lucrecia de León and Valentina Viñoles talked about the work with the pilot for CHANGE in Uruguay. Micaela Cazot and Lía Fernández (Identifying good practices of use: Reflections on the consumption of Slow Fashion in Uruguay) explored the plan for field work among people who themselves define their consumption as sustainable. The two were concerned with the wardrobe method’s possibilities also for self-reflection. Finally, Valentina Viñoles spoke about plus-size women’s wardrobe (Analysis of the coexistence between functional requirements, personal identity and social expectations).
The rest of the day was organized as a workshop with tables set up, where we could all choose different topics for discussion. This worked very well, despite the fact that talking together took time due to the different language skills we possessed. Spanish and English had to be translated back and forth constantly. But with a good mood and will, important topics such as politics and clothing for deviant bodies, and the development of wardrobe studies in Uruguay, were lively discussed.
This event contributes to the professionalization of wardrobe methods internationally, a central objective of the project, more specifically its work package 4. Students and junior researchers shared their experiences and initiatives using wardrobe methods, and more experienced researchers reflected on recent developments in methodological approaches and opportunities for future studies in the context of the growing social relevance of clothing consumption’s environmental impact.
Book presentation in an artisanal market
In the evening we participated in a book presentation at “Ideas +” a popular artisanal market that takes place every December in Montevideo. It also has a book launch every day, and some local music. There was a presentation of one of our colleagues’ work “Atinando al ojo del ciclope. La remanufactura y otros modos de accionar nuestras prácticas del vestir”. A well-organized market with books, arts and crafts and much more in one, of the city’s central parks. On the outskirts, there were also more unorganized markets. After the presentation, we got to see a bit of everything, and again the lack of textile craftsmanship struck us.
Locally produced textiles from many Latin American countries are dominated by indigenous woven and embroidered colorful clothing. In Uruguay, there is no knowledge of, or traces of, those who lived there before European colonization. It was said that they all died of disease.
Visit to Manos de Uruguay
Wednesday 7th: Manos del Uruguay is a non-profit social organization that since 1968 has given work to women artisans in rural areas of Uruguay. In Manos garments are designed and woven, mainly from wool yarns, for the local market and for prestigious international clothing brands.
Their premises are located in Montevideo, where they have workshops and offices. A lot of work is put into developing new products, as well as controlling the quality of their products, training and administration. There was a large number of different products, both yarn types and woven textiles. The yarn was mainly Merino. It was seen as a problem that there was no major spinning mill in Uruguay. Much of the yarn was hand spun, and some imported. A part of it had a curled-up look almost like unraveled yarns. This produced soft and airy woven textiles. Much of the yarn was hand dyed. We were told that they wanted to produce yarns from coarser, local breeds. The market, especially for hand knitting yarn, was very good, according to our tour guide.
The main product is a simple poncho and the most sold is undyed white. The market for this was both in Uruguay through the companies, but also for export. In addition, they sold to luxury brands as part of their profile. This market was growing and had also changed a bit. Today, companies were more interested in making it clear to customers who was behind the production. Manus de Uruguay added not only to the craft itself, but also confidence in the product.
The market for the products is good. What was a problem, however, was knowledge of crafts in younger generations and also access to suitable looms and yarns. After the tour, we visited one of the shops in the center of town where there was both a sale of leftovers, etc. and a more ordinary shop.
CEPRODIH is a non-profit civil association, founded in Montevideo in 1998, with the mission of assisting and promoting the most vulnerable families, especially women with children in situations of high social risk: unemployment, domestic violence, helplessness during pregnancy. The main objective is to generate concrete alternatives for socio-economic inclusion, so that women who are going through situations of risk can overcome them and manage to effectively join the labor market; managing to be able to support their families with dignity and autonomy.
Here we again met Renata Casanova Sanchez, who had given a lecture on upcycling at the seminar two days before. She gave us a nice tour of large, nice premises with lots of people and resources. There were courses in everything from sewing to running a business; kitchens, childcare and premises for various types of recycling of glass, paper, textiles and plastics. They had their own shop, or “showroom”, which displayed a selection of the products. They mostly worked with gifts and profile products for various companies and often with recycling of materials from the companies themselves. As the materials were constantly changing – and also the end product – a great deal of work was put into product development and utilization of materials. It was rarely possible to make many similar products.
The company’s finances were supported by non-profit organizations, and thus only part of the income came from the sale of the products. Nevertheless, the competitive situation for these, very time-consuming products, against mass-produced versions of the same products, was difficult. It was impressive to see how much beauty they were able to get out of waste that we don’t normally think of as valuable: Synthetic textiles, plastic and cardboard packaging, and much more. Part of the material consisted of donated clothes, they were also sold partly as resale and partly directly. When we were there, there had been a fire in a warehouse and large quantities of underwear with soot had come in. A group of women went through the goods to check for the possibility of laundering and reselling the underwear. Some of the items had tags cut off, as a way to protect the brand. This also meant that information about fiber and care of the clothes was missing.
Visit to Wool Mill: Engraw
We were given a tour by Frederico Raquet, who runs the family business. He started by explaining investments that have been made to make the factory climate neutral and self-sufficient in everything from energy to water purification. He also talked about all the various environmental certificates that he uses, everything from C2C to Climate Accounting. The water was purified in a separate facility and the remains of lanolin and dirt that could not be used in agriculture nearby were used as water/fertilizer for a planted forest that served as a final purification. Outside at the back of the factory, we saw the various water baths for purification, windmills for energy, all within their own property. Frederico strongly believes in long-term planning and leaving the company – and nature – in better condition for future generations. He also emphasized the well-being of the slightly over 100 employees.
Frederico explained that a large number of different types of grass grew in Uruguay, and that most of the country consisted of grazing land (natural pasture), i.e. not cultivated meadow or plowed land. The large areas were primarily used for cattle, i.e. meat production, but the cattle could not utilize all the grasses. In order to maintain good pastures, the farmers therefore released sheep onto the areas after the cattle had “had their share”. Trees were also an important part of this system. Trees provided shade for the animals and helped bind CO2. In this way, meat and wool production in Uruguay will fare well in terms of climate calculations. The animals graze outside all year round, there is no need for buildings or feed-production. Very little of the country’s vast plains has been cultivated. With this in mind, it was not surprising that one of the questions he had for us was why land-use is so important – and comes out so badly – in LCA/PEF comparisons. He wanted to know why it was not positive to use the area in a good way, and what would possibly be an environmentally better alternative for using the areas. Good questions.
Things were in good shape in the factory. The building itself was impressive with an incredible brick roof structure, neat and clean. He explained the various processes, from the wool entering in large trucks. Much is Uruguayan, both Merino and other breeds with coarser wool, but they also scour wool from other countries, mostly from South Africa. The Uruguayan wool was classified according to a separate wool classification system. Which he himself had learned well and thoroughly before he could move up the ranks in the company. The production itself was always based on specifications from the customer, and could consist of various mixtures. We got to see wool from many countries, and work plans where all customers figured only in codes. But… on this particular day, wool for carpet production in the Middle East whizzed through the machines. What we got to see of Uruguay’s own Merino was impressive. Fine, long fibers with good crimp. He believed that there was poor provision for the coarser qualities and that farmers were generally paid too little for wool. He was concerned with new market opportunities for the part of the wool with the worst prices.
We saw how the wool was mixed, scoured, carded and combed to tops. Some were also super-wash treated. When we got there, he said he would answer ALL questions about super-wash when we sat down afterwards. He thus assumed that we had a lot of questions about exactly this. When we actually sat down afterwards, we talked about this through Ingun rather saying what she usually answers to questions about this treatment. He himself thought it funny that a treatment with inputs that are both well-known and not unusual (chlorine, salt, resin (the same that makes paper glossy) arouses so much attention and resistance.
We used the rest of the time in Uruguay to see the country and talk about the further work in CHANGE. We allowed ourselves to be enthralled by the vast plains, endless beaches and the people’s pleasant and relaxed demeanor. The temperature quickly rose to well over 30 – so clothes… well there was a lot of bare skin to be seen and not just on the beach, but also the use of clothes as protection from the sun – a function we rarely have use for here at home.
Drums, often in large groups of men, are one of the country’s prides, and here too textiles are included in the form of huge flags which are preferably kept flying in time with the music. Another good use for textiles was mosquito netting around the beds. Paradise for mosquitoes, dogs and grass-eaters. Cattle, sheep and shiny, slender horses walked slowly around in large herds and could choose between open, warm plains, some shade from trees, or drinking from ponds of rainwater. We also experienced playful seals, walruses, people and not least waves at the beaches. Something for every taste, in other words.
Casual and formal on a trajectory to merge? This question is emerging both in research and when looking at consumer trends for clothing and fashion.
As part of the CHANGE project, one trajectory being explored is a return to clothing that is more versatile and less defined by occasion. In this exploration, a “mix and match” approach is being explored, which seems to resonate with a market in transition post-Covid.
Hugo Boss recently launched the knitted suit in cooperation with Woolmark, a new knitting technology with four-way stretch that makes the suit extremely versatile and enables the wearer a freedom of movement that most certainly allows for some leisure activity. At the same time leisure wear is becoming more formalized and an outdoor windbreaker now even has a place in a city setting, we heard during the recent IWTO Roundtable in Nuremberg in Germany, where Francesco Magri, Woolmark, talked about “the new suit”. He spoke about the “post streetwear” and affirmation of a “new” formal, and the return of conviviality and the “weekly” eveningwear.
We also saw an “urban hiking boot” being launched by Norwegian brand Alfa – which finds a place both to and from work, and hiking (click here to see the shoes). One could say athleisure (the merging of leisure and athletics) is further leaching into other aspects of our lives, which is echoed by the recently released State of Fashion report 2023, from Business of Fashion and McKinsey & Company, which alludes to this same change in mode of dress:
«Even before the pandemic and the hybrid-working paradigm of today, office attire was relaxing. Hoodies, jeans and sneakers became increasingly acceptable in many offices. Even banks and professional services firms — with entrenched suit and tie cultures — have acknowledged that office dress codes need modernizing. In 2019, Goldman Sachs announced a firm-wide flexible dress code, encouraging employees to use their judgment when deciding whether they should, or should not, ditch their suits for a more casual look.”
After the IWTO’s Round Table, the Secretary General, Dalena White, commented that this was a function of how people commute: On bikes and scooters, rather than in cars or over-crowded public transport. This means work-clothes need to adapt. But what then about women? Let’s return to the State of Fashion Report 2023, which highlights a new gender-fluidity as well:
“In women’s wardrobes, where dresses have long ruled both office and evening wear, a new take on the pant suit emerged in 2022. Labels such as J.Crew and The Frankie Shop showcased oversized suits and trousers in soft materials for customers looking for polished, fashionable but comfortable styles. Workwear label M.M. LaFleur has honed its ‘power casual’ category of structured knit tops and washable twill trousers. The brand said FORMALWEAR REINVENTED in early 2022 that its power casual styles were generating triple the sales of dresses that used to drive about a third of the company’s sales prior to the pandemic details that bridge formal and casual attire — such as formal cuts in comfortable materials that often incorporate performance fabrics, like sweat wicking or stretch — are also in high demand. For example, cashmere joggers from Burberry and Loro Piana or linen and crochet shirts from Jil Sander and Jigsaw can be dressed up or down depending on the occasion.”
Where does the shift in workwear leave formal wear? And how is the shift in more formalization of casual wear leave the whole idea of the need for very different clothes for different occasions, perhaps one of the main drivers in the current over-production of clothing? If your outdoor sports jacket also can be worn to work, if your work suit can be acceptable for leisure – why on earth would you need clothes that clearly signal formal or casual?
This opens up a whole new possibility to mix and match, combine a classic, formal jacket with jeans, or a wool sweater with a suit. Trends that have been emerging for quite some time – but are now taking hold.
There seems to be renewed hope for strong wool and local production. Especially with a focus on regenerative grazing and looking at wool’s possible new (and perhaps old, but forgotten) applications.
Regenerative agriculture was a major topic at the IWTO’s Round Table in Nuremberg, Germany, and the possibility of natural fibers to make a positive contribution to climate sequestration, to biodiversity and to soil health. Heinz Zeller from Hugo Boss, said that by 2030, all natural fibers the fashion brand uses must either be from regenerative agriculture or recycled sources. UK-based Merino farmer Lesley Prior, who is helping to establish a Merino breed in several European countries with sheep that can withstand a varied climate, also spoke a lot about the theme. Prior has worked for many years with small brands in the UK, such as Finisterre. “In England they have very strict rules about what you have to report and measure,” she explained, impressing everyone with her knowledge and passion. “Remember your woolen clothes are carbon stocks,” said Prior, to eager applause.
For Polish and Norwegian wool, two lectures were of great interest. Andy Caughey, head of Wool Impact in New Zealand, aims to make “strong wool” – i.e. the same wool as Norwegian crossbred wool – “great again”. “Stop looking at the floor,” he said, referring in particular to the wall-to-wall carpets. It is all about finding new and better applications for this wool, alongside carpets and knitting yarns. Wool winter boots are an emerging market, following the footsteps of Allbirds, Kastel and many others. The new company, Wool Impact, is funded by the New Zealand government, and among the examples Caughey showed were wool band-aids (which are biodegradable), sound-absorbing panels, face masks, air filters and nappies and sanitary pads, all in wool and potentially biodegradable if disposed of in the right manner.
New Zealand, unlike Norway, does not have wool subsidies, so the cost of shearing the crossbred sheep is today higher than what the farmer receives for the wool. In connection with the use of wool in wall panels for sound absorption, a company in New Zealand had developed an additive based on a food supplement, to ensure their flame retardancy. Strict requirements for a material that is naturally flame retardant has been a headache for many, including those who supply woolen products to the military, fire brigades, police and aerospace.
Reina Ovinge, from Holland, talked about her local wool project in Holland, The Knitwit Stable. She had worked in the fashion industry for many years, but got tired of the pressure on prices and the constant call for new collections. Although she only has 35 sheep and 35 goats, her work arouses great interest, also among EU bureaucrats, who have visited her set-up. The EU also has agreed to fund a knitting-machine, so that she can now produce clothing and other items on demand. This has led to capsule collection cooperation with Dutch fashion brands such as Scotch & Soda and Humanoid, small collections that command high prices. She has visited both Hillesvåg and Telespinn, she said, for inspiration.
We also heard about French wool (Roquefort cheese would not have had a place on shop shelves without sheep) which is mostly thrown away. France is very much struggling with the lack of a value chain for wool. We also heard about a new grazing project in the USA where the sheep graze in conjunction with solar panels, because the grass under these would otherwise have had to be cut by machines. Here, too, the topic was carbon capture, which Lesley Prior also repeated several times. She believes (but has no proof as of yet) that she is at least carbon neutral on her Tellenby Farm, perhaps even sequestering carbon. In addition, she used a reporting system called “Fair to Nature” which assesses the farm’s contribution to biodiversity every two years. And she isotope-labels the wool so that wherever it ends up, it can be traced back to her. Provenance was also something that several speakers claimed was increasingly important. In New Zealand, there is a labeling scheme that covers both the wool and the meat, New Zealand Farm Assured.
Lesley Prior had a bee in her bonnet about all that should be counted (with all the schemes and bureaucracy governing agriculture), what can be counted… and what actually counts. This is an ever-recurring discussion when it comes to regenerative agriculture, where what everyone can observe (birds chirping, bees buzzing) is probably as important as the measurement of carbon in the soil.
Whether local European wool can be used better was not a major theme during the conference, but it did resurface, and especially related to manufacturing. Nuremberg, with its famous Christmas market in the old town, is Südwolle’s hometown and therefore also the scene of the conference this time, as they were the main sponsor. Südwolle and Schneider are competitors, but at the wool congress both companies agreed that they want more production in Europe, but are struggling to recruit labor.
The topic of whether it is one of the solutions to bring down the enormous increase in production, to move production back to where consumption takes place, rather than a pessimistic belief that we will have a thriving fiber-to-fiber recycling industry in the EU, has only just begun. Interestingly enough, in light of all the arrows pointing down for the apparel industry, in light of rising prices and inflation, there was one industry that was optimistic, and that was the factory machinery manufacturers. They envision that more people than Hugo Boss will knit – and more locally – based on what is called “just-in-time” production.
Ovinge had bought herself a Stoll knitting-machine with EU funding, as mentioned, others will probably follow suit.
The Clothing Research Group, SIFO at OsloMet, has contributed to the recent Hot or Cool Institute report Unfit, Unfair, Unfashionable: Resizing Fashion for a Fair Consumption Space (download the report from Hot or Cool here). The contribution is in the form of a critique of EU’s textile strategy which was launched in March 2022.
The report Unfit, Unfair, Unfashionable: Resizing Fashion for a Fair Consumption Space goes far in mandating a “fair consumption space”, in an equity-based approach to reaching the climate target of 1,5-degrees. In sum, the authors have set a roof on how many items of clothing a person in the Global North can consume, at least on average, while allowing for an increase in consumption in the Global South. Why? Well, while the richest 20% in the UK emit 83% above the 1.5-target, 74% of people in Indonesia live below sufficiency consumption levels of fashion, which is one of many eye-opening statistics in the report.
The report is highly relevant for the ongoing work in the project CHANGE. In the same way as this research project lifts the sight from the Global North and our overconsumption, and addresses the discussion of what constitutes a sufficient wardrobe. In CHANGE we will continue this work, however with a point of departure in clothing culture and tradition. Clothing is not only “fashion” or environmental footprint bad guys, they are also an important part of our culture and history.
It is mainly in “Box 6” that the clothing research team at Clothing Research have contributed, with a critique of the EU textile strategy. This is not related directly to a roof on consumption, but critiques the lack of policy instruments to make “fast fashion go out of fashion” in the words of Frans Timmermans.
Opportunities for improving the EU Strategy for Sustainable Textiles, as discussed in “Box 6” has one of the following more important take-aways: “Missing from the Strategy is the only real alternative to the global mass-producing industry: small-scale, local production. Textiles are very complex products, socially, aesthetically, functionally and technically. If overproduction continues, longer lifespan for textiles or other measures to increase the utilization rate for individual garments, will not substantially contribute to reduced emissions nor to lower environmental impacts. The measures mentioned in the strategy are not aimed at solving the main issue of overproduction and overconsumption, and are thus not enough for achieving the goals of sustainable and circular textiles.”
The report could, however, have stressed more concrete policy measures that actually stop the influx into the Global North market – which risks – if consumers follow the report’s advice – an abundance of un-sold goods. These are also the goods that the EU plan to forbid incinerating and maybe exporting to the Global South as “gifts”. In the long run, however, the focus on less consumption can contribute to lower production and thereby also the environmental impact.