Why we’re hopeful for the future of wool

As wool entrepreneurs ourselves, we do love to celebrate the success of others ‘in our field’. We’re delighted to share here some of the wool innovation that’s caught our eye and imagination. These guys and gals are mutually invested in the future of wool. And we’re huge fans of their efforts. So let’s celebrate them!

To start with, we’re thrilled to share the success of one West Yorkshire businesswoman who this month won The Worshipful Company of Woolmen, Wool Innovation Award! 

Ilkley-based Sarah Turner, founder of the charmingly named Little Beau Sheep, handmakes laundry and body care products including wool dryer balls, felted wool soaps and laundry fragrance. We applaud her eco-friendly alternative approach to basic household chores. She won a woolly wonderful £10,000 for her efforts. 

Time to put your thinking beanie on and get inventing? To help you get started, here are our favourite recent wool innovations.

Wool coffins

We’re going to turn things upside down today and start at the end. A person can go through life being totally eco, but what happens when they die? 

The funeral industry operates at a hefty cost to the environment, but it doesn’t have to. Up until recently, there has been little choice when it comes to caskets, which are not exactly appealing at the best of times. But it doesn’t have to be that way. 

Natural Legacy

By reimagining the way we say goodbye, one Yorkshire company has designed innovative wool felt caskets - sustainable, biodegradable and a lot less foreboding.

AW Hainsworth - the Pudsey based company that makes masses of our British Wool Blankets, and which incidentally, created Prince William and Prince Harry’s wedding outfits -  created Natural Legacy coffins to meet a demand for more ‘approachable’ caskets. These grey and white coffins are strengthened with recycled cardboard, lined with organic cotton and completed with a personalised, embroidered woollen name plate, which can be felted or embroidered at home. A sweet touch, we think. 

Historians believe that wool caskets were in fact first used in the 17th century as a way to boost the wool economy! Now we’re doing it to make our ceremonies around death less frightening. We know how we’ll be leaving the building...

Insulating wool packaging

You know when you order your organic fruit and veg from your local delivery service, and it comes wrapped in plastic insulated packaging? And you feel a little deflated - after all, you’re trying to do your bit to help the world, not create more waste. 

WoolCool to the rescue

Well that’s where WoolCool steps in. Their ingenious thermal insulating wool packaging is now available as fleece liners, courier boxes, insulated pouches and envelopes. The people behind WoolCool’s innovative range of packaging use wool’s hygroscopic properties - storing and releasing moisture - to ensure that produce or pharmaceutical goods are maintained at a safe and stable temperature.

So not only are they reducing damage to the environment by using sustainable, biodegradable materials, they’re also reducing food and pharma waste - keeping produce fresh for longer. Bravo!

The company recently celebrated its 10th anniversary with a visit from HRH The Prince of Wales - a longstanding advocate for the environment.

Campaign for Wool

While we’re on the topic of HRH The Prince of Wales, it’s thrilling to have his Campaign for Wool on side. This extraordinarily passionate advocate for natural living has pushed the wonders of wool into the spotlight on many an occasion. 

Most recently, HRH visited the British Embassy in Japan to celebrate British and Japanese connections and on the hotlist of topics was wool. In the 1950s and 60s, Japan (home to very few sheep) imported vast quantities of wool from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the UK  - largely to stuff futons and mattresses. In recent times, polyester has taken over, reducing the enormous health advantages of sleeping on and under wool. The Prince of Wales was there to advocate for the health and environmental benefits of wool. 

We’re hoping the seachange in attitudes to the environment will turn that ship around. 

Woollen sportswear 

It’s no surprise that companies Down Under are obsessed with wool and all its wondrous uses! There are after all rather a lot of sheep in the region, and the economic fortunes of both Australia and New Zealand are linked to their output. So when we tell you that two surfing companies have developed watersports products using wool, perhaps you saw it coming? 

Green surfboards

Pro-surfer Kelly Slater’s surfboard company Firewire is at the cutting edge of wool innovation. Their green credentials match those of their surfers and the company has worked hard to incorporate these every wave of the way... 

  • The leash is made of recycled bottles. 
  • The traction pads are made from dried and pulverized algae, which if left to manifest would be at risk of creating toxic bloom. The pulverised algae is formed into a foam, which is then manufactured into traction pads.  
  • Even the paving stones outside the company’s building are made from EPS foam dust waste created in the surfboard manufacturing process.

Wool surfboards

So a wool surfboard would seem the logical next step. In fact the way it came about was by mistake, when craftsman Paul Barron was laminating a board and spilled some resin on a wool jumper. He realised he could make a board using ‘strong wool’. 

Woolight boards each have their own distinct look, reminding us of the naturally occurring fibres used to build it. The really exciting news for the planet is that now Paul thinks surfboards could be a drop in the ocean for wool composite materials - the end of plastic could come ever sooner thanks to Woolight!

Wool swimwear

Kelly Slater’s other slice of surf genius is his clothing company Outerknown. They’ve been working with The Woolmark Company to create Woolaroo, the first 100% merino wool swimming shorts. Yes, woollen swimmers. These soft, strong, classic shorts are biodegradable, renewable, temperature regulating, odour resistant, breathable and quick drying. They even boast UV protection. 

We’re struggling to find anything else a surfer or swimmer might need on their go-to clothing checklist. Outerknown say they hark back to the days when surf shorts were seen as equipment, and had to be built to last - to withstand monster waves and the nomadic surf lifestyle.

Wool footwear

It would be hard to miss the stratospheric rise of Allbirds on the wool innovation circuit. Their woollen runners have hit the world by storm in recent months and there’s seemingly no stopping their progress. These amazing, breathable, biodegradable shoes have a reputation for being supremely comfy, cool and gentle on the planet too. They’re so sure you’ll be won over, they offer to take them back after 30 days’ wear if you’re not convinced. 

We love their ethos, which stretches further than producing environmentally friendly goods. It’s about the full product cycle - sourcing materials, smart design, quality factories and responsible shipping methods - all evolved to create less waste and pollution. This year, Allbirds promised to go carbon neutral by paying to take the same amount of carbon out of the atmosphere as they produce. 

And even more? Thanks to their collaboration with Soles 4 Souls, lightly used Allbirds are sent around the world to communities in need. 

Cutting-edge wool design

Designers are being awfully clever in how they use and manipulate wool. Edward Crutchley is an award winning fashion designer who has worked out how to tie-dye knitwear. It’s a world-first wool innovation. 

Crutchley, who has worked with Kanye West, lives and works in Paris and London in the atelier of Dior Menswear. His deep understanding of and appreciation for artisanal textiles has led him to create new fabrics for his collections. Two stand out new methods have been created - screen printing on lace, and tie-dyeing Australian merino wool in collaboration with the head of the Kyoto Guild of Shibori Masters.

Capsule wardrobe

Those ingenious designers at Unbound Merino have created wool travel clothes that can be worn for weeks without a drop of detergent. Now that’s what we call travelling light - light on your back and on the planet. 

Merino, with its naturally odour-resistant, wrinkle-free properties is of course a natural contender for this heavy-duty kind of wear. And in fact the designers have simply pointed out merino wool’s insanely soft fibres make it the most wearable fibre on the planet. It keeps you cool (or warm, as required), draws moisture away from your skin to be released later, and the enzymes in the wool feast on bacteria, making it odour resistant. So, next time you’re boarding stuffed public transport, head for a seat next to the person wearing merino!

Carbon neutral building

What the three little pigs didn’t know is that a house built out of wool wouldn’t just withstand the huffs and puffs of the big bad wolf, it would be better for its residents too!

Three little piggies 2.0 

The National Farmers’ Union is urging agricultural businesses to opt for carbon neutral builds - in part by choosing wool and hemp as key building materials. They are pushing for the farming economy to be carbon neutral by 2040. Hempcrete is similar to concrete and is created from the wooden refuse removed during processing hemp (which also removes carbon from the atmosphere as it grows). 

Woollen insulation, manufactured by companies like Welsh Thermafleece, answers the need for eco friendly, sustainable and highly effective insulation. All their wool comes from British farms. We’re all over this like a rash (not like the rash you risk from traditional fibreglass insulation!)

Moth proof your cashmere

Related good news from the world of wool innovation is that scientists have worked out a way to save your cashmere from moths! The issue of carpet moths came to the fore when it was revealed that English Heritage’s country houses including Eltham Palace (of Brideshead Revisited fame) suffers with them. 

There are as many theories on how to rid your home of the pests as there are holes in my favourite cashmere cardi. I’ve tried freezing it, and if you have a carpet you can try pouring boiling water on the affected areas. 

However, an end to the drama may be in sight. Scientists have discovered how to divert male moths from mating with females. They essentially make them smell female. Like spritzing a mothy Chanel Number 5 around, but more technical, we image. The end result is fewer of those pesky larvae that create all the havoc, so we’re right behind this and await a cashmere safe future.

Sleep tight under wool

It’s back to basics again as wool innovation turns full circle. We’ve been told to ditch the sleep trackers and stop obsessing over the amount and quality of sleep we’re getting. It’s leading to increased anxiety and its cruel bedfellow - insomnia. 

We’ve long known that sleeping in wool is good for you. It helps you fall asleep more quickly, and if you combine your sleepwear with woollen duvets you’ll sleep more deeply and wake less frequently. 

For this we take our woollen beanies off to a three-year study conducted by the University of Sydney, which recently confirmed just this! 

What’s the future for wool innovation?

Ideas in development at The New Zealand Merino Company in collaboration with Christchurch’s Studio ZQ include... 

  • woollen luggage - to offer greater fire resistance thanks to wool’s self-extinguishing properties
  • wool paint made from freeze-dried and ground wool - with more insulating properties and moisture wicking qualities than synthetic paint
  • wool nappies for the ultimate in planet-friendly parenting

Let us know what woolly future you’d envisage! Please drop us a line, any time.

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