A member of a local knitting group posted this announcement on their Facebook page:
and noted in the comments that they hadn’t known that there were any animal welfare issues related to mohair.
The question is not if animal welfare issues do exist. They do. We all know that PETA has lots of horrible images about animal abuse that nobody really wants to see. At the same time these images are part of a campaign strategy, and the individual cases shouldn’t be generalized to a whole industry. We might not all know farmers, but those who do, know that they care about their animals.
As one member of the group mentions: the people at Asos talk about these plans most probably because they’re directing their marketing efforts at a growing group of vegans and vegetarians and in doing so get the full support of a number of vegan organisations. Asos in any case mostly sells synthetic fibres, which brings about a whole different series of issues with the plastic pollution of our world and the use of non-renewable sources.
So what can you do? The ideal world does not exist. Making ethical and sustainable choices always requires some kind of trade-off. When buying yarn there are basically two options: going certified organic or going small and local.
No specific label exists for organic yarn, but generic textile labels apply to yarn as to any other piece of textile.
Most probably you’ve already seen the Oekotex “Confidence in textiles” Standard 100 label. This is an organic nor a fair trade label. It doesn’t say anything about animal welfare. It only says that there aren’t enough harmful chemicals left in the garment to – well – do you any harm.
If you usually buy organic or fair trade, you might also have found the Fair Wear Foundation logo in your clothes or on a cotton bag. This label doesn’t say anything about animal welfare either. It only says that no humans have been harmed in the production process, that their working conditions are acceptable and that they’ve got proper payment for their work.
The only standard that covers about everything is GOTS – the Global Organic Textile Standard. Yarn, tissue or garments carrying this label have been produced with fibre issued from certified organic agriculture. If animal fibre is involved, the land on which the animals live has to be certified for organic agriculture as well. All parties involved in the production process up to the wholesaler have to be certified for the final product to be allowed to carry the logo. None of the production plants can use harmful chemicals, water has to be cleaned, recycled and used sparingly. The label also requires social responsibility: fair trade, proper payment and proper working conditions are all part of the standard.
It’s not perfect: this standard has been issued by the textile industry and hasn’t been defined by an independent authority, unlike the European bio label for food, where it is the European Commission that laid out the rules.
For certified yarn I’ve already listed in a previous post about the big trade fair in Cologne what is available on the market (or will be after summer).
Small and local
Knitting yarn with a GOTS label comes only in two types of fibre: there’s wool and there’s cotton. No alpaca, silk, mohair, angora, … That’s not because the standard doesn’t allow for it. There’s probably just not enough demand for these types of fancy yarn. So if you’re looking for these types of yarn, you have to look for your own alternatives. In which case going small and local is an option. If you know the person that takes good care of her goats, brings the fibre to the local cooperative of goat farmers the have it spun in a local spinning mill and the sells the yarn through her own online shop, why wouldn’t you buy her mohair? I’ve already mentioned Florence and her goat farm annex bed and breakfast La ferme sous les Hiez in a previous post.
If you’re looking for angora, you might want to have a look at Seidenhase.
Alpaca is easy to find with a fair trade logo and it can be found locally.
Silk is quite a different story. I do not have the feeling that I’m already to the end of the story there, so I’m not going to make any suggestion. Lots of animals have to die for silk and in most cases they’re indeed boiled alive.
Even if organic certified wool exists, you might be bothered by the fact that it almost always comes from South-America and has to travel quite a distance to reach us: grown in Patagonia, processed in the UK, shipped to the brand owner in Germany, shipped to the retailer in Belgium and the shipped to final customer in Japan, it’s quite a distance for a skein of yarn but nothing exceptional. With the exception of the Mérino d’Arles from Rosy Green Wool none of the local yarns has a certification, but there are a lot of small brands out there! Very often you can only buy directly from them, or in just a couple of local stores. One of my favourites in this range is De Rerum Natura: beautiful yarn, beautiful patterns, superb colours, and local. Our own Mergelland is obviously in this category as well.
Still questions? Get in touch!