Why we're using new wool

Why we're using new wool

After many years of working at the end of the supply chain on waste, it’s time for us to get closer to the source, working with materials to be more sustainable and higher quality at the point of input, not just disposal. For the first time we’re using virgin wool, that is new wool, to make a blanket. Here we’ll share why.

Natural fibres reduce harm to the environment 

We’ve long aspired to find or develop a recycled yarn that’s made of 100% natural fibres. Currently, the industry relies on polyester or polyamide to spin recycled wool fibres together, which become short after ragging the waste. But as well as relying on petro-chemicals for their creation and their pollution potential, poly-blended fibres can limit the end-of-life recycling options. 

Monofibres enhance recycling capabilities

Monofibre garments (that is, made from 100% of one material) and more specifically natural monofibres (like 100% cotton or 100% wool), are the easiest to sort and remanufacture, and maintain their value for longer. For this reason, we were drawn to exploring responsibly farmed wool as a potential fibre source for Seljak Brand. As a brand that has exclusively worked with waste, we felt we needed to dig deeper into the whole lifecycle of the wool fibre itself to continue our work in pushing the industry toward better textiles solutions.

Alternatives to the current industrial agricultural system 

Industrial agriculture – including the process of growing many natural fibres like wool – is resource intensive. Sheep need a lot of land, water and food, and are responsible for expelling methane gas into the environment. There’s evidence that wool farming has lead to increased emissions, soil degradation and decreased biodiversity from land clearing. Animal activists have also long railed against the practice of mulesing, which is cutting excess skin folds on the backside of the sheep to prevent fly-strike. There are definitely some dark sides of wool production, and many complexities to address. 

However, there is a growing movement of farmers who practice sheep farming that 1) ensures The Five Freedoms are respected, and 2) enriches the ecosystem rather than degrading it. It’s called regenerative sheep farming and it's a growing movement in Australia and around the world.

Working with Hatch & Make

Meanwhile, a small knitting studio on Wurundjeri Country, aka the Yarra Valley, called Hatch & Make entered the scene. We identified an aligned vision in circularity with the understanding that farming in the right way is one of the great tools we can unlock to solve the climate crisis.

Inside Hatch & Make's studioThe Hatch & Make studio sits on Wurundjeri Country, also known as the Yarra Valley

Hatch & Make source non-mulesed merino wool that aligns with The Five Freedoms. Because Hatch & Make’s products are 100% wool and contain no poly components (i.e. plastic fibres), composting products made at Hatch & Make could be possible, returning the nutrients stored in wool back to the earth. This is a theory we tested last year by decomposing a blanket at Yandina Food Waste Loop. 

Close-to-zero waste knitting 

Until now, Seljak Brand has only worked with woven fabrics, that is, blankets made on looms in long rolls of fabric. Hatch & Make offers a new opportunity by machine knitting, which is a bit like 3D printing – you only use the material inputs required to make the final products produce almost no yarn or fabric waste

The classic innovation process

We originally set about looking for a 100% recycled wool yarn that we could knit into blankets. But the recycled wool we found wasn’t strong enough to knit on an industrial machine, the yarn shredding apart as it was knitted to create big holes.

Recycled wool fabric with holes in it

Using recycled wool yarn on the industrial knitting machine produced large holes

As we continue to research Australian-grown regenerative wool and its ability to be blended with recycled wool, we decided to work with Hatch and Make on our first 100% new wool knitted blanket.

Our first 100% new wool knitted blanket

The Dancing Daisies blanket is a luxurious, ultra soft blanket for kids to use for comfort, warmth and play. The artwork on the blanket is inspired by the personhood of plants, of paper daisies and their response to rain, and is a joyful expression of play and movement. 

Paper Daisies blanket laying on a playroom floorThe Dancing Daisies blanket for kids is knitted with 100% responsibly sourced merino wool

Because every product we make must have a closed loop solution, we currently have a Dancing Daisies blanket sample in the compost system at Loop Farm just outside of Meanjin (Brisbane) to test its viability for composting at end-of-life. We’ll collect the soil from the compost test and send it to a lab to analyse soil health, using the same methodology as our composting test from last year. These findings will be available on our website. Ultimately it means Seljak Brand can close both industrial and biological loops with our closed loop blankets.

Dancing Daisies blanket under a kids tipi with some toysThe Paper Daisies blanket is perfect for the playroom or getting out and about  

What is regeneratively farmed wool?

Regenerative farming is an umbrella term that encompasses approaches to farming that “improves the resources it uses, rather than destroying or depleting them,” according to the Rodale Institute. Techniques that differ to conventional methods of farming include less tilling (or the turning over and ripping up of the soil) to improve organic matter in soils, use and rotation of cover crops (never keep the soil bare) to reduce erosion and increase soil nutrients, planting a diversity of plants and crops, and reducing use of fertilisers and pesticides. For sheep farming, there is the additional aspect of rotational grazing to allow pastures to recover. 

Charles Massey standing in a field of native grassesCharles Massey on his farm among native grasses, including kangaroo grass. Image: Soofia Tariq

The case for regeneratively farmed wool shows potential with success stories of increased productivity and biodiversity on farms around the world. If you want to learn more, we’ve particularly enjoyed the following resources:

  • Call of the Reed Warbler: A New Agriculture, a New Earth by Charles Massey, (scientist, woolgrower and author)
  • Sundressed: Natural fibres and the future of fashion by Lucianne Tonti (sustainable fashion expert, The Guardian fashion contributor and author)
  • ABC’s Australian Story on the Mulloon Creek Natural Farms and natural sequence farming
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