Is Wool& Greenwashing?
I don’t think so. Admittedly, I’m biased because I’m doing the Wool& 100-day dress challenge in an effort to be a more mindful consumer, buying fewer garments that can last and taking excellent care of them. (The $100 prize at the end of my sustainability journey was also a motivator when I started the challenge.)
Wooland lauds the sustainability, breathability, and versatility of wool – all excellent things – and boasts their wool dress is so well-constructed and comfortable that it can be worn for 100 days straight. (26 days in, my Wool& dress is in excellent shape and has required only a couple of washings where I’ve doused it in a sink of cold water.)
Their 100-day dress challenge has had thousands of participants. It has been a huge marketing win, pushing awareness for wool, the brand, and driving sales.
It’s meant to be a conscious-living, sustainability challenge. But is the brand actually sustainable? A reader and textile blogger, whom I’ll call “Jill”, messaged me that the challenge is a greenwashing marketing hoax and asked I reconsider my participation.
I’m going to see it through (the challenge): I already have the dress and I’m enjoying the impact it’s had on my life. But, I didn’t want to disregard the case my reader presented.
Full Traceability Claims
Wooland isn’t transparent enough about wool sourcing and environmental certifications on a page that pledges sustainability and transparency. For example, key green certifications are not displayed or mentioned on Wooland.com, including RWS (Responsible Wool Standard), OKEO-TEX 100 (no toxic chemicals, dyes, or substances used during textile production), Fairtrade, Carbon Neutral, or GOTS Organic.
Other sustainable brands will openly acknowledge certifications they have or do not have, and share that info.
The brand references the IWTO (International World Textile Organisation), but any specific affiliation is unclear.
Your Dress Was Grown Here
I reached out to Wool& and could not get a direct answer about OEKO-TEX, Fairtrade, GOTS, or Carbon Neutral certifications. I was repeatedly directed to existing pages about the Wool& supply chain and product transparency, which gave no real information – and an image of a pasture with the tagline “your dress was grown here”.
My dress was “grown” on a family-owned farm in Australia that “meets our values of sustainability.” On a page showing the full journey of where your dress comes from, there are pictures of a farm, a farm address, and a bucolic video telling us that the family takes land management and conservation seriously. It’s certainly possible these claims are true, but I can’t find any verifiable data to prove or rebut.
Animal welfare is an acknowledged concern, with mulesed wool used in the garment production process. (Mulesing is the painful process of removing wool-bearing skin around the animal’s rectum to reduce parasitic infection.) The practice has been phased out in many wool-producing countries around the globe but is still widely practiced in Australia which is troubling.
Wooland’s stated goal, on its website and via email, is to become mulesing-free by 2024. It is a commendable goal, although Wool& has not offered any specific benchmarks or targets (i.e. 75% mulesing free by this date, 90% mulesing free by that date) towards achieving this goal. They also do not share what percentage of mulesed wool is used now in garment production. Since the brand’s last update from the farm was in August 2022 (two months ago), that does seem an encouraging indicator that mulesing is on its way out.
In an email statement, a company representative stated:
We stand firmly behind our policy to“do better” and are hopeful that we can be part of the solution to reduce mulesing in the long-term. We are pleased to be working toward a solution that reduces the widespread practice of mulesing in the wool industry. We believe that the health and wellbeing of sheep should be prioritized in the most humane way possible. We’re looking forward to taking our community on this journey with us.
And when directly asked about green certifications (Fairtrade, Carbon Neutral, GOTS, OLEO-TEK, and RWS) they have or are pursuing, I was told “We spoke with our farm in August about their progress transitioning away from the practice of mulesing, and they are on target to meet our goal of only using non-mulesed wool by the end 2024″ after which the company should be able to become RWS (Responsible Wool Standard) certified.
I was also given a link to the Wooland Journal and an article about its diversity and inclusion practices which did contain information about Wool&’s other commitments to sustainability. Return packaging is recycled, all consumer shipping materials are plastic-free, and textile waste is minimized with repair options and defective merchandise sold at a discount during annual warehouse sales.
And Wool& was helpful in answering my questions about how their wool fabric is cleaned and descaled.
We use a superwash process with our garments. Superwash wool is wool that is machine washable and, therefore, will not felt or shrink like untreated wool. Superwash wool is made by exposing the fiber to a chlorine gas that erodes the scales and then it is coated in a plastic resin called Hercosett 125. One yard of our t-shirt fabric has .45 grams of resin, about half the weight of a raisin. The scouring mill has a EU Ecolabel Certificate and is OEKO-TEX 100 certified up to the safety level for babies and children. We do not use formaldehyde or disperse dyes. Disperse dyes are most common for polyester clothing and none of our fabrics contain any polyester.
In this instance, the information provided is specific, measurable, and verifiable (yay! – although note that I have not personally researched these claims).
Also, Wool& publishes detailed information about its production factories in China and South Korea which have ISO certifications for garment quality and workplace standards.
Wooland is Selling Sunshine, Rain, Grass, and Fresh Air
Wool& isn’t selling a dress. Wool& is selling an idea. Wooland is selling “sunshine, rain, grass, fresh air”.
This, I think, is what might rub some environmental purists the wrong way.
Personally, I find the messaging quite ingenious. The best brands don’t sell a product: they sell nostalgia (like Don Draper’s time machine) and other intoxicating emotion. Or the promise of rebirth as a leaner, stronger, or otherwise better human being. That’s what every consumer purchase is: an expressed desire to be reborn in the likeness of the product they’re being sold.
Wool& has sold me the promise of a more sustainable, virtuous, and green reincarnation of myself. And for the most part, Wooland has delivered. With 26% of the 100-day dress challenge completed, it feels like I’ve ascended into Green Nirvana – even if some days are mintier than others.
I’m Not Mad at Wool&
Maybe I’ve drunk the lime Kool-Aid, but I’m not mad at Wooland. Biased because I like the challenge? Undoubtedly.
Let me break it down.
I’m still enthusiastic about wearing the dress for 100 days. I’m consuming less and living more simply, and I can see how comfortable wool is (no sweating!) and how well it holds up (no pilling or thinning!) I even wore my Wool& dress for family photos (quite happily) and will be donning it for Thanksgiving too.
- Wool& encourages you to consume less (good) and
- Wool& garments are priced high which discourages overbuying (good).
- Wool requires less laundering and water to care for it (good).
- But it’s harvested from mulesed sheep (bad).
- Sheep produce methane and contribute to global warming (bad) and
- Overgrazing and overbreeding of sheep for wool production cause soil erosion and desertification (bad).
- But grazing animals can help fight climate change (good) when properly managed.
- Sheep dung can improve the soil by improving its ability to absorb water (good) and improve soil nutrients (good), thereby also increasing plant biodiversity (good).
- Farm-bred sheep get slaughtered (bad), but these sheep provide food (good) and leather (good).
- There’s no certification or proof to back up claims of responsible land management (bad).
- Wool& states they are working towards RWS certification (which would mean better animal welfare) by 2024 (good).
- Wool& dresses are made of wool, which is bio-degradable (good).
- Most Wool& dresses (22 of 23) are blended with nylon (bad). (21 of the dresses are made with 22% nylon. The Audrey Maxi Dress is made with 49% wool, 33% Tencel, and 18% nylon.) Producing nylon creates nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas worse for the environment than CO2 (bad). Its manufacturing uses massive amounts of water (bad) and nylon is not biodegradable (bad).
- But the added nylon makes your dress stretchier and more wearable (good) and nylon is very lightweight and durable (good).
- Wool& production factories have ISO certifications for garment quality (good) and workplace conditions (good).
- Wool& is transparent about those factory working conditions with specific guidelines published (good).
- Wool& manufactures high-end clothing in China and is upfront about it (good).
- Wool& reps are not able to reply to my questions about certifications that are lacking or not pursued (bad).
- Wool& doesn’t have/share specific info about its farm’s animal welfare, grazing, and husbandry practices, or how the farm is audited (bad).
- I like the 100-day dress challenge: it’s had immense benefits on my everyday life. It’s increased my creativity (good) and made me a more thoughtful overall consumer and reformed some of my materialist ways (good).
The Count is 19 and 11
There are areas where Wool& may not have enough oversight or information. But overall, Wool& is doing more things right than wrong. I count 19 “good” to 11 “bad” on my moral abacus. Not to mention how the dress challenge has radically transformed how I care for all my garments and think about the acquisition of new fashion.
Yeah. I’m a little salty that when I ask for more transparency I’m directed to pages that don’t answer my questions.
I think Wooland has underestimated the consumer’s desire for more insight into how their product is sourced. If your whole brand is built around happy, well-cared-for sheep providing sustainable, eco-friendly wool, more specific information is in order.
But at 19 out of 30, I 63% support Wool& its dress challenge.
Still saying yes to the dress
I really like the dress. And in my view, it is OK for a brand to be not-pursuing GOTS or other certifications. For some businesses, it could be too cost-prohibitive or resource-heavy. But educated, informed consumers should expect brands claiming sustainability to have certifications or proof. If you’re a brand touting yourself as “sustainable”, that means more openness with consumers as to what you’re doing and what you’re not doing. Misha & Puff is a great example of a transparent brand that tells consumers what it is, and is not, doing and why – including why organic materials are not used for some garment production.
Wool& is very much a brand built around its viral challenge vs micro details for consumers.
I do want more details – because I value transparency (admit your sins) over altruism (I’m good because being good is noble). I demand this honesty: as a consumer and in my day-to-day interactions.
The verdict on whether or not Wool& is a sustainable brand
Is Wool& a sustainable brand? I don’t know insofar as I don’t even know that there’s such a thing as a “sustainable brand” because the definition is relative to your personal values. A vegan would certainly not consider Wool& as ethical or sustainable, but someone who values slow fashion might esteem the brand highly.
You’ll have to reach your own conclusion on Wool&’s sustainability. There’s more than one way to skin a sheep.
For someone like me, obsessed with transparency and self-awareness (give me an honest asshole over affable milquetoast any day), I don’t know if Wool& is sustainable. I know I want the brand to be sustainable. And I know I want to be sustainable – or at least less unsustainable.
There are things Wool& could be doing better, but this is also true of me. There are a lot of things I get wrong. But if you ask me whether or not I eat meat or drive a gas-guzzling SUV, I’m going to tell you a candid “yes” on both counts. (I also have a vegetable garden and put in 50 to 100 miles a week on my bike for errands and pleasure riding.)
And being completely candid here, yes, I like the dress. It’s one of the most well-constructed garments I’ve ever owned. And I’m in awe of the transformative experience this dress challenge has been. I’ve been more creative with my outfits and paired the dress with garments and shoes I hadn’t worn in eons.
It ranks up there with my favorite dress from Old Navy (a gingham print sundress I’ve worn a few dozen times this summer and fall). I’ve worn it with a much narrower range of accessories and styling options. But then again, I haven’t been pushing myself to wear it as many different ways as I could. I just love wearing it. Repeatedly.
I’ll probably get a new wool dress with my $100 Wooland voucher and enjoy the new one just as much as my Clara Wool& dress. And enjoy pulling the wool over my eyes.
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