The Wool Buying Guide

By Elizabeth Stilwell

Wool is natural fibre obtained from sheep, goats, rabbits, alpacas, and even yaks that is distinguished from fur by its crimp, elasticity, and growth in clusters. Wool is a versatile fibre that is biodegradable, resists odors, and is appropriate for both warm and cold weather. Below I will discuss two types of sheep’s wool and where to find the best ethical options.

New Wool

If buying new wool, the sustainability of the fibre varies by its origin, including the type of animal as well as its processing into a garment. For example, because of their lower impact on the environment, alpacas are more sustainable as a herd than cashmere goats. Organic certification ensures that harmful chemical processes are avoided during production. Buying from socially and environmentally conscious brands supports sustainability for the people and resources behind the label. 


Zady has just launched their first in-house collection with a women’s sweater. It’s made from sheep’s wool and is 100% sourced and made in the USA. Zady has painstakingly documented the process from sheep to sweater and is calling for other brands to do the same. Read more about .01 The Sweater, available in three colors.

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Master & Muse

Master & Muse by Amber Valletta is a curation of sustainable items available on The wool pieces below include collaborations with brands like H Fredriksson and Pachacuti Hats. 

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Eileen Fisher

Eileen Fisher is doing a lot of things right. They want customers to know about their fair trade sweaters, but are also open about the fact that they still use chlorine to treat their wool and why. Transparency is going to be key as consumers demand more sustainable brands. Below are some of their 100% wool options. 

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Organic By John Patrick

Organic by John Patrick makes use of many natural fibres, including alpaca and sheep’s wool. Below are some of my favorite 100% wool pieces. 

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Izzy Lane

Izzy Lane is a British brand that promotes animal welfare in the fashion industry:

At it’s core are the 500 rare breed sheep which have been rescued from slaughter and whose wool is used in our Collection. Our flock of Wensleydale and Shetland sheep comprise mainly of animals that would have been sent to slaughter for being – male, missing a pregnancy, being a little lame, being too small, being too old or having imperfections such as a black spot in a white fleece. We pay equal and better prices to save them. These sheep will live out their whole natural lives in our sheep sanctuary in North Yorkshire and their wool is used in our knitwear and wovens.

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The benefits and drawbacks of the most common natural fibres and recommendations for buying new textiles. 

Merino wool

It’s important to be informed when purchasing items made from merino wool. Merino sheep have been bred to grow increasingly more wrinkled, which produces more wool per sheep. But the deep folds of the wrinkles can cause problems, including a fatal affliction called “flystrike”. To combat flystrike, merino sheep are sometimes subject to mulesing, the removal of excess skin around their tails; this is often done without anesthesia. New Zealand has, for the most part not practiced mulesing for the last ten years by finding alternate solutions. Australia and China often still mutilate their sheep this way, so check the origin of the wool if you can. Below are brands that ensure their wool is mulesing-free. 

Boerum Apparel

Boerum Apparel is a new brand committed to its sustainable supply chain. Their first pieces are 100% merino wool sweaters sourced from a small New Zealand farm that does not practice mulesing. Read more about their practices here

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Icebreakers is a New Zealand activewear brand that certifies their wool is mulesing-free. They are also open about their environmental impact and supply chain. Learn more here and even trace your item all the way back to the sheep station it originated from. 

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Repurposed + Recycled Wool

In my opinion, materials that we collect from animals should be treated with the utmost respect. Once the wool has been collected and made into textiles, it should be used for item that will be treasured for a long time (if not a lifetime). One way to extend the life of wool is to repurpose or recycle it into something else. The brand Ecoalf does this for many materials, including wool. Designer Jennifer Fukushima utilizes natural and recycled fibres to create items like the gauntlets below. Patagonia has a whole section dedicated to recycled textiles; the parka below is made from organic canvas and recycled wool, polyester, and nylon. Meg of A Wool Story upcycles yarn from thrifted sweaters to create hats and mittens. Helpsy allows you to shop by quality, including upcycled materials. The wrap jacket below is made from deadstock wool melton that was originally used for NYPD uniforms!

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Wool items are usually quite durable and easy to mend, making secondhand another good buying option, especially if you are looking for an environmentally detrimental material like cashmere. Second hand options include shopping on resale sites, on Etsy or ebay, or in local thrift stores.


This post contains affiliate links, which means I get a small commission if you buy anything through the link (it doesn’t change the amount you pay). I only include brands that I believe in, that I would use myself, or think might be of interest to you. 


Elizabeth StilwellABOUT THE AUTHOR

With a background in education, Elizabeth Stilwell produces engaging, actionable content as editor-in-chief of The Note Passer. A proud sustainability nerd, her aim is to be a resource for ethical alternatives that benefit both people and the environment. The Note Passer is inspiration for better, sustainable future; one that’s full of more meaning and less waste. Elizabeth’s graphics, photography, and words have have appeared on EF Magazine, Moral Fibres, BF+DA, EcoGreenLove, and others. She is also a co-founder of the Ethical Writers Coalition , a group of writers who are furthering ethical and sustainable living online and in print.

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