Too hot for knitwear: Climate crisis, biodiversity and fashion brands using wool and synthetics

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Wool and synthetic fibers are responsible for serious harms to the planet, particularly the climate and biodiversity, yet they continue to be widely used in the fashion industry. While virgin synthetics are commonly recognized as an unsustainable material due to their fossil fuel origin, wool is often posited as the natural, eco-friendly alternative. However, wool is not a fiber simply provided by nature — it’s a scaled product of modern industrial, chemical, ecological and genetic intervention that’s a significant contributor to the climate crisis, land degradation, water use, pollution and biodiversity loss. Furthermore, many wool fibers are blended with synthetics, compromising their capacity to biodegrade. Wool can also be dyed and processed with chemicals that render the fiber non-biodegradable and create toxic pollution, but brands are not transparent with information relating to wool processing.

Although the connection between synthetics and microfiber pollution is well established, many companies rely on recycled synthetics — which have some benefits over virgin, but still shed microfibers — as their core sustainable materials sourcing strategy. Wool and wool blend garments continue to be promoted as responsible and sustainable, while investment in genuine solutions and more future-proofed materials is lagging. 

The Center for Biological Diversity and Collective Fashion Justice analyzed the Fall 2022 online catalogs of 13 top brands for the materials used in their knitwear and the information provided on the sustainability of those materials.

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