Wool is an ancient fibre created by nature that has been used by man for centuries for its warmth and durability.
But did you know that wool is a very complex biological fibre that has challenged scientists for decades? It has proved impossible to replicate.
Despite all the technological advances in alternative synthetic materials, wool remains a unique, and almost miraculous fibre with its ability to absorb a high level of moisture while simultaneously providing protection from rain showers. In addition, its resilience and natural odour resistance are unmatched.
This shouldn't come as a surprise. Wool has been biologically perfected over thousands of years while being worn next to the animal's skin. This makes it superior to other types of fibres in terms of efficiency and comfort.
The complex structure of wool has been intensively studied by a number of international wool authorities (such as Woolmark, The Campaign for Wool, IWTO). Consequently, new scientific tools and methods have been developed to help modify wool, thereby creating new functions and improved performance.
Thanks to the knowledge of the composition and chemistry of wool, it is now possible to engineer various types of wool fabrics – warm or cool – suitable for everything from extreme sporting activities to the most elegant formal wear.
But let’s go back to basics.
Wool is a natural hair-like fibre produced year-round by various animals, including alpacas, llamas and goats, with the most prevalent wool being produced by sheep.
The world sheep flock is estimated to be currently around 1 billion. The top wool producing countries are China and Australia.
Wool fibre consists of a natural protein called keratin. Keratin biodegrades like the protein found in human hair and plays an important role in the composition of many related organic materials.
Proteins are responsible for much of wool’s physical properties, such as resilience and elasticity. This is what allows it to stretch without breaking, bounce back into shape, and keep performing under extreme conditions.
Due to wool’s natural origin, it’s recyclable and biodegradable. It can decompose in soil within only a year, and at the same time it gradually releases the natural fertilising nitrogen nutrients back into the ground. By contrast, synthetic fibres can take many decades to decay, potentially polluting and damaging the environment.
Wool is also a fully renewable fibre, because sheep produce new fleece every year. The animals are typically sheared once a year. This helps them be more comfortable during the warmer months. Sheep then regrow their coat over the course of the next few months to be ready in time for the cooler weather.
Sheep have cloven hooves which help to promote healthy grass roots and are regularly used on mixed farms to complement the growth of other crops as they promote significantly improved soil health and fertility.
Wool has long been used for a lot more than just woolly socks and blankets!
Wool is durable, breathable, fire-resistant, odour-resistant, insulating and moisture-absorbing, which makes it a desirable fabric for many purposes, such as, clothes, carpets, furniture upholstery, bedding, cosmetics, construction and much more.
Because wool regulates human temperature so well, it is uniquely qualified to be used in the production of high-performance sports and activewear. Items made from wool can keep you dry and at a comfortable temperature, regardless of the weather conditions or the level of perspiration during exercise.
Unlike many other materials, wool works as an insulator even when wet, keeping you warm in cold weather and cool in hot weather. Many other materials immediately begin drawing away your body heat if they get wet. This can rapidly become uncomfortable, even life threatening, if you are pursuing an intense sporting activity or similar.
Additionally, many fabrics keep you warm, but not cool. Or they keep you cool, but not warm. Whereas wool is one of the few materials that works equally well under a much wider variety of conditions.
With the growing consumer interest in natural and sustainable materials, there are, undoubtedly, great future opportunities for wool and its historic, yet modern industry.