How this Swedish ”wool standard” can help brands in a circular direction
The new system, spearheaded by Axfoundation, can tackle many issues in the fashion industry.
By AYLIN FRANZON
November 16, 2023
Sweden sees an import of over 1,700 tonnes of wool annually. As a contrast to this, domestic sheep farming produces approximately 1,000 tonnes, with over half of it going to waste. These numbers display an undeniable discrepancy when one looks at the rising demand for new textile fibres on a global scale, with estimated predictions showing a 150% increase by the year 2050 (Axfoundation).
In 2020, to combat the environmental challenges that these numbers could bring, Axfoundation started The Swedish Wool Initiative. The venture is a collaborative effort, made up of actors within local fashion and textile sectors, and aims to deliver a structural solution for brands to utilise Swedish wool. The work has resulted in The Swedish Wool Standard, a classification system where the wool is sorted into different types, based on traits such as length, fineness and colour, rather than the breed of the sheep.
Filippa K is one of the pioneering member companies and Creative Director Liisa Kessler explains why it’s important to be involved in the project development.
— Swedish wool has been an important part of our collections since 2018, she says. That was when we discovered that the material, a byproduct of the local meat industry, was being discarded. Seeing this potential resource go to waste, we set out to partner with farms and other industry stakeholders to create our own fully traceable supply chain. It lead us to be part of this collaborative, spearheaded by the Axfoundation, that has been driving this system forward.
— This new system will simplify the process of selling and buying high-quality Swedish wool, enabling brands in the fashion and textile industry to embrace it as a circular and sustainable material.
How will you work with the new standard in practice?
— Up to now, it has been difficult to acquire the same quality of Swedish wool from season to season, Kessler says. The process of wool classification involves a broker who acquires raw wool from a diverse range of farms, assesses its properties, and classifies it into a system of types and grades. The new system will help us understand exactly which wool we’ll be able to source, based on length, thickness, colour and lustre.
What will this system mean for brands that are aiming for a more sustainable approach to their value chain?
— It will make a big difference for brands who are aiming to obtain larger quantities of their desired quality of Swedish wool. It will reduce the reliance on imported wool, which has a larger carbon footprint and lower animal welfare standards. This allows brands to choose a circular, more sustainable and local material for fashion and textiles without compromising.
”The more customers who know about this system will naturally translate into more brands knowing that this information is available to help them”
Josephine Norris, Senior Product Developer, how will you communicate it to your end consumers?
— It’s crucial to make this information available. The more customers who know about this system will naturally translate into more brands knowing that this information is available to help them. This system works as a universal language that explains which products are best made with what type of wool. Hopefully it will lead to brands further exploring the potentials of Swedish wool, she says, continuing,
— We took part in a promotional film for Swedish Wool which was made by Axfoundation and documents the journey towards zero waste. In the film, we discuss the use of the system and how we believe it will transform and increase the use of Swedish Wool. This is set to be released in early 2024.
— Alongside educating our customer with a broad explanation of the new system, Norris continues, we see the importance of communicating these wool classifications on a personal level to the customer. Providing the information on the actual garments, for example, establishes a connection from the wool fibre to the finished garment.
What else are you curious about right now?
— Working to ensure an ethical and sustainable supply chain, and breaking down the barriers of the production tiers is a constant effort. We were one of the first brands to start using third party certifications as a way to confirm that the fibre and material were sourced from where we expected, and this also ensures good animal welfare and sustainable sources.
— We’ve also looked into regenerative farming. It could serve as a key for finding as many fibres as possible from sources that practice a conservation and rehabilitation approach to farming. That would ensure continued biodiversity and good soil health, amongst other things.