Can the Campaign for Wool support Wool Week for 100%?

Wool Week UK 2013 is in full swing, and so far I have been enjoying the effort and enthusiasm put in by most participants. As a member of Team Wovember, I wholeheartedly support their cause and it’s great that the Campaign for Wool are trying in general to get more wool into the existent and problematic fast-fashion industry. The point of the Campaign for Wool and Wool Week UK is to educate consumers about wool and its unique properties. As they explain on their website, wool is natural, renewable, biodegradable, breathable, resilient, elastic, easy-case, odour resistant, a natural insulator, and more.

Therefore I was surprised to find out that Topshop created a 80/20 wool/polyamide blend jumper to celebrate Wool Week. Having a garment promoting wool week that is actually a wool-blend dillutes this educative opportunity to teach the consumers about wool and its benefits. Worse, it actually feeds common stereotypes about wool being ‘scratchy’ and ‘unwashable,’ whereas there are 100% woollen fabrics available which are both soft and machine-washable. I started asking questions on Twitter why this was. Soon the Campaign for Wool got in touch, explaining that

“At CfW we don’t ask that the garments are 100% wool. We stipulate a 80% min which Topshop have stuck to.

This still makes the garment wool-rich but allows the retailer to hit certain price points which make it an attractive item for their customers or add embellishments and details not always possible in 100% wool.

The aim of CFW is to get as many consumers aware of wool and its benefits but we find it important to take a balanced approach that makes it easy for our valued retail supporters to join and celebrate wool week.”

As some of you may know, I was invited to participate in another Campaign for Wool Event earlier this year. Wool House at Somerset House was a resounding success, and I’m sure that the message that wool is amazing has come across to the general public. Part of this was surely due to the high standard set by the Campaign for Wool: when I accepted my invitation to run darning workshops during this event, I was asked by one of the Campaign for Wool coordinators to remember that

” [a]lso, this is all about real wool – so all activity has to be with real wool.  Sorry to point out the obvious but you would be amazed how often it does not register!!”

Why did the Campaign for Wool not insist on setting the same high standard for their valued retail supporters? I would like to have seen that Wool Week in particular should be a more risk-taking, daring, ambitious and inspiring cultural event, which raises the bar on what is possible and seeks to educate on the value and provenance of real woollen textiles? The 20% polyamide sweater is a half-hearted attempt at educating consumers on the value of wool; it’s a conservative and unimaginative manoeuvre which allows more wool to be utilised by the fashion industry while simultaneously perpetuating all of the myths which compromise the very position of wool within that industry.

A number of High Street retailers such as Cos and Sea Salt do offer 100% woollen outfits at a similar price point. And, indeed, Topshop also managed to do so, for example with this machine-washable 100% wool jumper currently on offer. I hope that for next year the Campaign for Wool can challenge any participating retailers and their design teams to excel themselves and to help stop misconceptions such as “an attractive item for their customers or add[ing] embellishments and details [are] not always possible in 100% wool.” Topshop have already shown that it is.

Meanwhile, if you want to celebrate Wool Week UK in true style, then why not buy one of the 100% woollen jumpers that Topshop (and other participants) have on offer?

8 Replies to “Can the Campaign for Wool support Wool Week for 100%?”

  1. I too feel like an evangelist when talking to people about natural fibers in general, particularly wool. I love to tell people about a novel fabric that is machine washable, breathable, insulating, wicks moisture, lightweight, can hold up to 30% of its weight in liquid and still feel dry, and is both environmentally responsible and renewable. What could it possibly be?? They are always shocked when I tell them: It’s wool. 🙂

  2. I am 100% in support of your position on this… why should individual craftspeople adhere to a 100% wool approach when presenting workshops, while folk with bigger buying power such as Topshop are allowed a 20% non-wool margin?

    Wool Week should be about inspiration and aspiration; to suggest that 20% polyamide is the best we can hope for when shopping for wool garments is limiting, unimaginative, and – crucially – lacking 100% WOOL inspiration. Come on wool week, up yer game!!!! Huzzah to you for drawing attention to the discrepancy here.

  3. It doesn’t make sense to demand you darn into 100% wool and then promote less than 100% wool garments. The Campaign directors are either promoting wool or they aren’t: it’s a classic case of mixed messages and fence-sitting. However, until woollen garments can be produced more cheaply, generally and be created without the ‘scratchiness’ some folk detect, it won’t be widely adopted. Also, I have found that there can be a very big difference in the quality, feel and durability of similar garments which are all made of wool: this is confusing for the consumer.
    I work with pure wool, preferably British-reared and love the fibre but I think there is a lot of muddled thinking regarding the encouragement of it’s use in the commercial world and also unrealistic expectations, perhaps.

  4. I understand where wool-enthusiasts are coming from with the desire for Wool Week to be 100% all the time, but I think this 80/20 jumper can be looked at positively. It’s a great step toward woolliness, and just think, it’s 80 more wool than people would be buying if they reached for an all-synthetic shirt. The glass IS most definitely half (or even 80%) full here!

    It’s a bit like the vegetarian campaign urging meat eaters to eat less meat — they know some people will never STOP eating meat, so don’t try to make them — instead urge people do go meat free one day a week.
    It’s a step in the right direction. So is this jumper. Look at it as a positive.

    1. I think what I’m trying to say is that when the Campaign for Wool organised Wool House, they insisted that all the small independent companies and craftspeople used all wool products. Now they have a chance to ask the big companies that actually can make a difference. I would have liked to see that for Wool Week only, they set the same high standard and asked them to create a 100% woollen jumper. They say it was the designer’s choice to not go all the way, but they never asked them to. And Topshop for example already sell 100% woollen jumpers right now. I’m hoping that next year they raise the bar for ALL participants, not just the small companies, but especially those big companies that can make a difference.

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