Lisbeth Løvbak Berg, Ingun Grimstad Klepp, Anna Schytte Sigaard, Jan Broda, Monika Rom and Katarzyna Kobiela-Mendrek.
Production and use of plastic products have drastically increased during the past decades and their environmental impacts are increasingly spotlighted. At the same time, coarse wool, a by-product of meat and dairy production, goes largely unexploited in the EU. This paper asks why more coarse wool is not used in consumer goods, such as acoustic and sound-absorbing products, garden products, and sanitary products. This is answered through a SWOT analysis of results from a desktop study and interviews with producers of these products made from wool, as well as policy documents relating to wool, waste, textiles, and plastic. Findings show that on a product level, the many inherent properties of wool create opportunities for product development and sustainability improvements and that using the coarser wool represents an opportunity for replacing plastics in many applications as well as for innovation. This is, however, dependent on local infrastructure and small-scale enterprises, but as such, it creates opportunities for local value chains, value creation, and safeguarding of local heritage. The 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.
Textile fibers have become a major issue in the debate on sustainable fashion and clothing consumption. While consumers are encouraged to choose more sustainable and circular textile materials, studies have indicated that a reduction in production and consumption has the greatest potential to reduce the total environmental impact. This can be considered an ecocentric perspective with a focus on degrowth as opposed to a technocentric view where new technologies are expected to solve environmental problems while economic growth continues. Based on a survey in Norway (N = 1284), we investigate how the techno- and ecocentric perspectives impact Norwegian consumers’ fiber preferences and perceptions and the corresponding effects on their clothing consumption. We found that the majority of consumers preferred natural fibers compared to synthetic materials. This contradicts current market practices and the recommendations by material sustainability comparison tools such as the Higg Material Sustainability Index (MSI), where many synthetics receive better ratings than natural fibers. We also found that perceptions of high sustainability regarding fibers were 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.
What is the ‘functional unit’ of a winter coat, or a pair of boots? The ‘functional unit’ is a central concept for lifecyle assessment (LCA) based tools. In the ongoing work on the European Union’s (EU) PEFCR (Product Environmental Footprint Category Rules), this is based on the number of days of ‘usability’.
Let’s explore what this means. A ‘functional unit’ is perhaps most easily explained in terms of paint, in terms of how long a certain paint will keep the walls protected and good looking, but how does that translate to apparel?
The EU has decided that the functional unit for a winter coat – or a pair of boots – is 100 days of use. This is the expected usability (functional unit) you can expect to gain from a product before it needs replacing or repairing. So far, so good.
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.
The “finished” fabric on the left is smoother and softer than the unfinished fabric in the right. (Photo: Tone S. Tobiasson)
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.
From the exhibit at the Historic Museum in Oslo, where the results from the VikingGold challenge were showcased, alongside the tunic from the Lendbreen glacier. (Photo: Tone S. Tobiasson)
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).
From the exhibition at the Coastal Museum in Florø.
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.
A jacket detail: Designer Malin Håvarstein played with the VikingGold material in a modern context. (Photo: Håvarstein Design)
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.
A Nuen chair with fabric woven by Krivi Vev from wool spun at Hillesvåg Wool Spinnery. (Photo: Tone S. Tobiasson)
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.
Iselin Shumba in her VikingGold jacket. (Photo: Private)
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.
Katarzyna Kobiela-Mendrek, Marcin Bączek, Jan Broda, Monika Rom, Ingvild Espelien and Ingun Klepp
Wool of mountain sheep, treated nowadays as a waste or troublesome byproduct of sheep husbandry, was used for the production of sound-absorbing materials. Felts of two different thicknesses were produced from loose fibres. Additionally, two types of yarn,ring-spun and core rug, were obtained. The yarns were used for the production of tufted fabric with cut and loop piles. During the examinations, basic parameters of the obtained materials were determined. Then, according to standard procedure with the use of impedance tube, the sound absorption coefficient was measured, and the noise reduction coefficient (NRC) was calculated. It was revealed that felt produced from coarse wool exhibits high porosity, and its sound-absorbing capacity is strongly related to the felt thickness. For thicker felt the NRC achieved0.4, which is comparable with the NRC of commercial ceiling tiles. It was shown that the crucial parameter influencing the sound absorption of the tufted fabrics was the pile height. For both types of yarns, when the height of the pile was increased from 12 to 16 mm, the NRC increased from 0.4 to 0.42. The manufactured materials made from local wool possess good absorption capacity, similar to commercial products usually made from more expensive wool types. The materials look nice and can be used for noise reduction as inner acoustic screens, panels, or carpets.
Anna Schytte Sigaard, Lisbeth Løvbak Berg and Ingun Grimstad Klepp
This report gives an overview of the market for alternative wool products with the perceived potential to be made using vacant wool. The work is based on a desktop study and interviews with manufacturers and distributors, focusing on products made of wool and their qualities. The report is the second deliverable from work package 2 of the WOOLUME project. The main goal of WOOLUME is to explore different ways of using wool from the Polish Mountain Sheep to achieve better utilisation of resources and value creation. Producers were identified that use wool as a material for products in the following categories: cultivation, soil improvement, insulation and personal hygiene as well as other new and alternative wool products. Findings show a range of products that take advantage of the many properties of wool, both aesthetic and technical. They also show that wool has the potential to replace synthetic materials in several applications and create truly circular products when treated in a way that preserves biodegradability. Though Merino wool dominates the wool market, several producers make use of other, local wool qualities and the interest for using the vacant wool, often discarded as a mere by-product of meat and dairy production, is growing. However, there is further potential for optimising resource utilisation in using vacant wool, in particular, non-spinnable wool with a higher fibre thickness, in products where the fineness and spinnability of merino wool are not required.
This report is the first deliverable from work package 2 of the WOOLUME project. The main goal of WOOLUME is to explore different ways of using wool from Polish Mountain Sheep to achieve better utilisation of resources and value creation. The aim of the report has been to map the market for acoustic and sound absorbing products made of wool to examine the potential to introduce coarse wool as a material. This has been done through desktop research and interviews with a focus on the qualities of wool as a natural product. Findings show that though man-made materials dominate the market for acoustic products due to lower prices, wool is preferred as a material due to its natural properties as well as aesthetics. Producers using wool consider their products to be high-end, intended for people who want very good quality products and who are willing to pay a higher price to achieve this. However, few producers use coarse wool in these products, and many are made of pure Merino wool. Using Merino wool which is often considered of very fine quality due to the low micron-count does not correspond with the ideal of good utilisation of resources. Therefore, we are proposing to utilise coarse wool which today is discarded as a mere by-product to meat-production. Merino could instead be used for products where fineness and softness are important factors such as for clothing. In addition, we argue for the rawness and uniqueness of the look of coarse wool as positive in terms of aesthetics and as something that adds to the position of acoustic products made of wool as high-end.
Stephen G. Weidemann, Leo Briggs, Quan V. Nguyen, Simon J. Clarke, Kirsi Laitala and Ingun G. Klepp
Garment production and use generate substantial environmental impacts, and the care and use are key determinants of cradle-to-grave impacts. The present study investigated the potential to reduce environmental impacts by applying best practices for garment care combined with increased garment use. A wool sweater is used as an example because wool garments have particular attributes that favour reduced environmental impacts in the use phase.
A cradle-to-grave life cycle assessment (LCA) was used to compare six plausible best and worst-case practice scenarios for use and care of a wool sweater, relative to current practices. These focussed on options available to consumers to reduce impacts, including reduced washing frequency, use of more efficient washing machines, reduced use of machine clothing dryers, garment reuse by multiple users, and increasing number of garment wears before disposal. A sixth scenario combined all options. Worst practices took the worst plausible alternative for each option investigated. Impacts were reported per wear in Western Europe for climate change, fossil energy demand, water stress and freshwater consumption.
Results and discussion
Washing less frequently reduced impacts by between 4 and 20%, while using more efficient washing machines at capacity reduced impacts by 1 to 6%, depending on the impact category. Reduced use of machine dryer reduced impacts by < 5% across all indicators. Reusing garments by multiple users increased life span and reduced impacts by 25–28% across all indicators. Increasing wears from 109 to 400 per garment lifespan had the largest effect, decreasing impacts by 60% to 68% depending on the impact category. Best practice care, where garment use was maximised and care practices focussed on the minimum practical requirements, resulted in a ~ 75% reduction in impacts across all indicators. Unsurprisingly, worst-case scenarios increased impacts dramatically: using the garment once before disposal increased GHG impacts over 100 times.
Wool sweaters have potential for long life and low environmental impact in use, but there are substantial differences between the best, current and worst-case scenarios. Detailed information about garment care and lifespans is needed to understand and reduce environmental impacts. Opportunities exist for consumers to rapidly and dramatically reduce these impacts. The fashion industry can facilitate this through garment design and marketing that promotes and enables long wear life and minimal care.
S.G. Wiedemann, L. Biggs, B. Nebel, K. Bauch, K. Laitala, I.G. Klepp, P.G. Swan and K. Watson.
The textiles industry is a substantial contributor to environmental impacts through the production, processing, use, and end-of-life of garments. Wool is a high value, natural, and renewable fibre that is used to produce a wide range of garments, from active leisure wear to formal wear, and represents a small segment of the global fashion industry. Woollen garments are produced by long, global value chains extending from the production of ‘greasy’ wool on sheep farms, through processing to garment make-up, retail, consumer use, and end-of-life. To date, there have been limited life cycle assessment (LCA) studies on the environmental impacts of the full supply chain or use phase of garments, with the majority of wool LCA studies focusing on a segment of the supply chain. This study aimed to address this knowledge gap via a cradle-to-grave LCA of a woollen garment.
This study investigated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, fossil fuel energy, and water stress associated with the production, use, and end-of-life of a lightweight woollen sweater (300-g wool), together with inventory results for freshwater consumption and land occupation. Primary datasets were used for the wool production and wool processing stages, while primary datasets relating to consumer garment use were supplemented with literature data. Impacts were calculated and reported per garment wear event.
Results and discussion
Impacts per wear were 0.17 (± 0.02) kg CO2-e GHG, 0.88 (± 0.18) MJ fossil energy, and 0.96 (± 0.42) H2O-e water stress. Fossil fuel energy was dominated by wool processing, with substantial contributions of energy also arising from retail and garment care. Greenhouse gas emissions from wool production (farming) contributed the highest proportion of impacts, followed by lower contributions from processing and garment care. Contributions to water stress varied less across the supply chain, with major contributions arising from production, processing, and garment use.
Opportunities to improve the efficiency of production, processing, and garment care exist, which could also reduce resource use and impacts from wool. However, the number of garment wear events and length of garment lifetime was found to be the most influential factor in determining garment impacts. This indicated that consumers have the largest capacity to influence the sustainability of their woollen garments by maximising the active garment lifespan which will reduce overall impacts.
Ingun Grimstad Klepp, Tone Skårdal Tobiasson, Vilde Haugrønning, Gunnar Vittersø, Lise Grøva, Torhild Kvingedal, Ingvild Espelien & Elin Kubberød
From its initiation in 2015 to the end in 2019, KRUS had two goals: to improve the market for and the value of Norwegian wool, and survey the opportunities for local production in a move towards a goal of sustainability in the fashion sector. On a larger scale, KRUS has looked at how we can re-establish an understanding of the connection between the raw material and the finished product within the textile industry and among consumers. It is critical to understand this connection, both to ensure quality products and to reach the market potential for Norwegian wool.
To restore the understanding of “where clothes come from” is also at the heart of challenges currently facing the textile industry. The consumption and production of textiles faces major challenges and changes in the future. Today the industry is characterized by low control and little knowledge, while growth in quantity, environmental impact, as well as stress on animals and humans is high. KRUS has contributed to the debate on sustainable clothing by focusing on local value-chains and locally produced apparel.
The focus on Norwegian wool and the specific qualities of the different breeds has played an essential role for Norwegian textile tradition and dress culture, and a better understanding of this has been essential to the project. An important challenge for Norwegian wool is that it has not been marketed with any kind of label of origin. Private actors have thus entered the field and developed their own private labels for Norwegian wool. In addition, there are few products on the market containing Norwegian wool beyond hand-knitting yarn, which means that availability has been limited.
Throughout the project, we have seen a shift, especially for older sheep breeds, which have posed a special challenge. Their wool is central in keeping Norwegian handicrafts alive, but the quality on some of the wool types has been declining. For others, the challenge is that much of the wool is not taken care of, and constitutes a waste problem. Through breeding-projects, work collaboration, looking closely at labelling systems and business models, KRUS has addressed these challenges.