A Guide To Ethical Knitwear

Pulling The Wool Over Everything | Curiously Conscious

It’s knitwear season! The question is, are you wearing ethical knitwear? Wool is possibly my favourite fashion fabric, in terms of comfort, warmth, and look. If treated right, wool can last a long time too. But is wool ethical?

Here’s my snappy guide to sussing out fair places to find woollen knitwear, as well as a few alternatives that may also catch your eye…

Can Wool Be Ethical Or Sustainable?

There’s been much debate over wool and whether it can ever be considered an ethical or sustainable textile. Wool is obviously an animal byproduct, making it a non-vegan material from the get-go. PETA produced an exposé (warning: graphic) in July this year, showing certain UK sheep farms mistreating their animals. It does raise the question over all wool: how do you know how the animals have been treated?

For wool, the added pressure comes around the sheep themselves. I stopped eating meat due to the wide-spread poor treatment of animals, and I also avoid first-hand leather because I don’t want to support the meat industry. I don’t have as much issue with wool, because shearing doesn’t normally harm or kill sheep, goats, or alpacas.

I’m of the opinion that ethical wool is only that sourced from farms who treat their sheep well, and that the farmers are paid fairly too. To be able to meet this criteria, fashion brands need to be transparent about where they source their wool, and state which farms they work with.

However, as sustainable fashion journalist Lucy Siegle reports, there’s only one spinning mill in the whole of the UK, meaning the production of UK-only wool is severely limited. Right now, we need to look further afield – and it’s the Americas and Australasia that produce 90% of the world’s wool.

4 Examples of Ethical Wool

If you’re looking for ethical knitwear this season, you may want to try widening your search to include more than just traditional wool. Consider these more ethical and sustainable alternatives for a lighter impact on the planet:

1. Recycled Wool

Wool is a difficult fabric to navigate. There are many types – alpaca, angora, cashmere, lambswool, merino, mohair – and each of them come with their own pros and cons. Personally I love wool because it’s natural, renewable, and biodegradable. But for the most part, I like to go for second-hand woollens, or shop with super transparent wool brands such as Naadam or Sheep Inc. The wool skirt in my outfit is second-hand, and it’s in perfect condition!

Wool recycling technology has come on in leaps and bounds over the last few years and it’s now a fixture in many winter collections. So if you’re still looking for a ‘new’ garment, go for one that’s circular. Baukjen*, Organic Basics*, and Pangaia all have a great selection of recycled wool clothing.

2. Second-Hand Cashmere

My favourite type of wool has to be cashmere! In my outfit pictured above, I’m wearing what is reportedly the world’s fairest cashmere! This gifted jumper comes from Naadam, who work with nomadic cashmere goat herders in Mongolia, paying them 50% more than the industry average, and then producing their luxury knits themselves so as to reduce the cost to consumer.

However, cashmere has a huge carbon impact, and Naadam has a very small presence here in the UK. If you’re looking for cashmere that’s ethical, abundant, and budget friendly, my best recommendation is to look for second-hand garments. It’s what I touted in my guide to sustainable cashmere, and my favourite places to shop are Second Cashmere and Nearly New Cashmere, as well as on second-hand sites.

3. Organic Cotton

Cotton is a great animal-friendly alternative to wool. It’s a versatile textile – in t-shirts, it is light and soft, while denim is tough and long-lasting. And cotton can be spun in a way to emulate wool too. This year I’ve spotted so many jumpers that look like wool, and even feel like wool, but are made from 100% cotton!

If you’re vegan, or simply unsure about buying first-hand wool, cotton can make for a great alternative. If you can, try to go for organic cotton with closed-loop water systems to reduce the environmental impact of your clothes, or again, go for second-hand. Rapanui has a great range of organic cotton jumpers as a starting point.

4. Linen

Did you know, linen can be made into knitwear? This was a new discovery for me too, but the strong plant-based textile is versatile enough to be woven into wool-like thread. And, linen is great for both keeping you warm, as well as wicking away sweat! Think of it as an all-year-round textile, rather than simply for your summer trousers. You can find a selection of linen jumpers at Toast and John Lewis*.

17 Of The Best Ethical Knitwear Brands In UK

One jumper probably isn’t enough to get through the British winter, so I’m hoping to add to my collection from one of these ethical knitwear brands this year…

Baukjen*: Ethically made knitwear using recycled fibres in a range of classic styles.

Bee & Sons: 100% natural, luxury circular knitwear (including 100% recycled cashmere!)

Finisterre: Merino wool from non-mulesed sheep in New Zealand, guaranteed the freedom from thirst, hunger, cold, illness, and manhandling.

Flock by Nature: British and Italian woollens with a complimentary repair service and recyclable packaging.

HERD*: Luxury knitwear made with English wool, respecting artisanal skills and traditions.

Jan ‘n June: Contemporary knitwear made from recycled wool and mohair.

Organic Basics*: A small collection of knitted garments made from recycled wool.

Oubas: British and Irish lambswool garments, spun at their Scottish mill and made in their Cumbrian studio.

Pangaia: Recycled cashmere clothing in Pangaia’s trademark pastels.

Patagonia: Activewear using slow-washed merino sourced from the grasslands of Patagonia.

Rave Review: Luxury coats and blazers made from dead-stock wool.

Second Cashmere: Handpicked second-hand restored cashmere garments. Read my full review →

Sheep Inc.: Carbon-negative woollens, designed and created transparently and ethically.

Stella McCartney*: Re-engineered cashmere, as well as wool from hand-selected, high welfare sheep farms.

Study 34: Responsibly produced high-quality alpaca knitwear made in Arequipa, Peru.

Ted & Bessie: Ethical and sustainable knitwear made with fleece from their herd of UK-bred alpacas.

Toast: Classic knitwear styles made from sustainable fabrics and made to last.

P.S. Care For Your Garments

Wool is a natural product, which is great, but it can also be a little fussy when it comes to washing. I like to use gentle natural detergents, hand-wash my woollens, and lay them flat to dry naturally. Read more of my clothing care tips here.

When you’re finished with your favourite pieces, make sure to pass them down, recycle them where possible, or compost garments made from 100% wool.

Disclaimer: This post features gifted products (denoted 'gifted') and affiliate links (denoted '*')


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