We humans have pretty much always depended on animals when it comes to our clothing – at least the ones that keep us warm and dry.
But where we once spoke of 'farm animals' and did not pay much attention to the life they lived, today we have a different and more respectful approach to the animals that provide us with materials for our wardrobe.
Image accreditation: Dmitrij Paskevic via Unsplash
Animals must live a good life
When we stand in front of the mirror and consider a purchase - or admire our knitted wonder - animal welfare becomes part of the sustainable equation. We ask ourselves if it is a matter of course that our clothes must be spun from a dignified animal? At Önling, the answer is a clear yes.
We believe that the animals we get our wool from deserve a good life with shelter, sufficient space and the opportunity to live as naturally as possible. A life with plenty of food and water. A healthy life without stress and pain. In short – a life that testifies to the importance they have for us humans. That 's the least we can do.
When we talk about animal welfare at Önling, we take point of departure in the five freedoms for animals that are part of human production chains. For us – and our suppliers – it is common sense.
The five freedoms for animals
The animals must have free access to fresh water and a proper diet to maintain health and vigor
It’s essential that animals are provided with an appropriate and suitable habitat that includes the possibility to seek shelter and an area where they can rest
As much as possible, we must prevent disease and if the animals become ill, they must be quickly diagnosed and treated. Vaccinating animals to prevent disease and illness is a must The constant monitoring of animals is also necessary to pick up on injury or illness quickly.
The animals must have the necessary space to show normal behaviour and to move, run and jump as freely as possible. They should be offered the chance to socialise with other animals of the same breed and to be kept in proper facilities.
The fifth freedom states that the mental health of an animal is just as important as its physical health. We must ensure that the animals live and are treated in a way that protects them from mental suffering. This speaks to avoiding overcrowding and to providing a safe space for all animals.
Sheep's wool is undoubtedly the material that is used the most in Önling's yarns, which makes a lot of sense, as we are well known for making beautiful Nordic knitwear. As it stands, wool is nature's best protection against our cold and windy Nordic winter.
Just think of the sheep that are out in all kinds of weather - without freezing to death. They do that, of course, because they are made for it thanks to their insulating wool, which absorbs sweat better than other textile materials. But it also means that the sheep's wool is sought after by humans - and therefore sheep have become an industry.
Unfortunately, this is something that can make sheep vulnerable, which makes the choice of wool suppliers extremely important to us. We want to ensure that our wool comes from sheep that live a good life, even if they are part of the yarn production chain, and we have chosen suppliers, who care as much about the sheep's wellfare as we do. In our eyes, it is not possible to enjoy wool that was created on the back of animal suffering.
Photo by Jurgen Dekker on Unsplash
Both our merino wool and the 'ordinary' wool come from sheep that live in New Zealand and Australia, which are the world's largest suppliers of wool. This is where the sheep's natural habitat is, and here the animals roam freely on huge areas of land.
Mulesing – a painful and stressful practice
For many years, mulesing was a routine operation on most merino sheep, especially in Australia, which is the world's largest merino wool producer. It is a method to prevent the sheep from getting insect infections in the skin folds they have around their bum.
To prevent these infections, breeders traditionally cut off the folds of skin on the newborn lambs, so the skin would heal up smoothly, so the insects cannot lay eggs in the skin. Mulesing is obviously a painful operation, and at Önling we believe that no animal should experience the pain and stress it entails. Therefore, we only use merino yarn that is certified mulesing-free under, among other things, The SustainaWool Green and RWS certifications.
Our wool suppliers are certified under the Responsible Wool Standard (RWS), the aim of which is to give the yarn and textile industry the opportunity to choose the best suppliers.
It must help to ensure that the wool comes from farmers who treat the sheep responsibly. RWS-certified farmers must respect the five freedoms for animals, which form the standard for animal welfare under RWS – which, among other things, includes a ban on mulesing.
The certification also ensures that, from farm to finished skein, the wool is traceable and to ensure it has not been replaced by other, non-certified wool. This means that we can trace the yarn back to both a specific farm, field and group of sheep. The RWS scheme has been developed with input from i.a. animal welfare experts, and the certified suppliers are checked and approved by an impartial, professional third-party institution – at every stage of the production and supply chain.
Our RWS-certified yarns are:
Önling No 1
Önling No 2
Önling No 10
Önling No 11
Önling No 12
Önling No 13
Önling No 15
Önling No 16
Önling No 20
Angora yarn is fluffy, super light and two to three times warmer than other types of wool - a bit like the rabbits whose fur the angora yarn is spun from.
By nature, the Angora rabbits shed their fur every four months, after which the loose fur is picked off for further processing. It leaves a protective layer of hair on the rabbit and is the most gentle but also the slowest method. Therefore, some producers choose to shear the rabbits - a bit like they do with sheep. It's a faster and more efficient process, which however it results in a slightly less soft quality.
At Önling we have a single yarn that contains angora and it is Önling No 1. If you have ever knitted with angora, you know how easily it can felt – the same applies to the rabbit's fur. Angora rabbits therefore require a high degree of care, so that they can shed naturally - and so the yarn has the highest quality. Of course, all this means that it is expensive to produce angora yarn, and this is unfortunately something that can create grounds for angora productions that do not stand the light of day. We saw this in the 00s and 10s, when both Chinese and French angora productions were exposed in animal cruelty.
Photo Credit: Charles B, Flickr
At Önling, we use angora in one of our yarns, - Önling No 1 - and the angora fibers are called Caregora.
The angora fibers come from two farms in China, while the yarn is finalized in Italy. Caregora is a trademark, not a certification scheme, and our Italian manufacturer has visited the Chinese farms and guarantees that the rabbits are kept to DEFRA standards adopted by the UK government.
Overall, the standards ensure that the rabbits live in orderly and responsible conditions, and that their fur is plucked or cut in a responsible manner – in line with the five freedoms for animals.
Cashmere comes from cashmere goats, and the fibers come from the very fine and soft inner layer of wool from the goats. When the goats have been sheared, the outer of their coat, which is more coarse in texture, is not used for cashmere production,
Because real cashmere is so expensive, we have seen a lot of fake fibers in the industry, and in China and Mongolia, the two largest cashmere nations, poor land management and overgrazing have destroyed large natural areas. Today, fibers and textiles are tested more thoroughly to ensure that what is called cashmere is now also cashmere, and in relation to both animal welfare and environmental protection there have been several certification initiatives.
Image credits: Paul Esson©, on Flickr here
At Önling, we use cashmere in several yarn types and as companion thread. Cashmere gives your knitwear an incredible lightness, while keeping you wonderfully warm.
You will find cashmere in two of our yarns, namely Önling No 11 and Önling No 13. For Önling No 11, the cashmere fibers come from Asia and are spun in Italy. Our supplier from Italy buys its cashmere from shepherds accredited under The Sustainable Fiber Alliance (SFA)
The Sustainable Fiber Alliance is a newer non-profit organization that works with the supply chain – from herders to retail – to ensure the entire industry remains viable. The goal is to promote the SFA's cashmere standard in order to encourage responsible production practices that minimize the environmental impact and ensure both the shepherds' livelihood and good animal welfare.
The following applies to the yarn Önling No 11: The cashmere fibers come from Asia and are spun in Italy.
Our supplier from Italy buys its cashmere from shepherds accredited under The Sustainable Fiber Alliance (SFA). The Sustainable Fiber Alliance is a newer non-profit organization that works with the supply chain – from herders to retail – to ensure the entire industry remains viable.
The goal is to promote the SFA's cashmere standard in order to encourage responsible production practices that minimize the environmental impact and ensure both the shepherds' livelihood and good animal welfare
Read more about The Sustainable Fiber Alliance Cashmere Standard
For Önling No 12 and 13 yarns, we do not have the full transparency, other than the fact that the cashmere fibers come from goats in Asia and that they are spun into yarn in England. We have as an ambition to delve into the conditions of animals and humans in the production of these yarns, so that we can assess whether they should continue to be part of our range.
Mohair goats - or angora goats, as they are also called - are the animals behind one of the most luxurious types of wool; mohair. It is incredibly soft and super light, but still warm and insulating - and it's both smooth and water-repellent. Mohair has everything one can wish from wool.
The little mohair goats have fur all over their bodies, except for the face and legs, and they are shorn twice a year – the result is four to five kilos of wool from each goat annually. The mohair goats originally stem from Central Asia, and Turkey has also historically been one of the major 'mohair areas'. Today, Turkey, Argentina, USA and South Africa are at the forefront when it comes to mohair production.
Önling's mohair fibers come from goats in South Africa, which has a fantastic climate for mohair goats, while the yarn itself is produced by one of our regular suppliers from Italy.
Image by ranrouha from Pixabay
Responsible mohair standard
In South Africa, the mohair farms are united under Mohair South Africa (MSA), which ensures that the mohair produced in the country complies with the criteria laid down in the Responsible Mohair Standard (RMS). Önling's mohair (Önling No 10) is produced according to this standard. RMS is a voluntary standard and is, not surprisingly, related to RWS. RMS must ensure that the mohair fibers come from farms that have a responsible approach in the way they work with both animals, people and the earth – i.a. the farmers must respect the animals' five freedoms. In addition, the RMS standards entail the same requirements for e.g. working conditions, land management, conservation of biodiversity and traceability as RWS, as well as third-party inspections of the farms using the certification.
If you want to delve deeper into what criteria the mohair farms commit to under the RMS standard, you can read more here: https://textileexchange.org/responsible-mohair-standard/
Silk. Just feel the word. Most of us love the feeling that silk gives when it wraps around the body. There is a reason why silk is often used for the clothes we wear closest to the skin. It is simply so smooth and soft that it almost feels like wearing nothing.
On the other hand, you will definitely feel the effect of silk - because the light material is nature's own temperature regulator. That's why it's so suitable in luxury bedding and sleepwear. It lets the body breathe and keeps you warm in winter and cool in summer.
At Önling we use silk in one yarn type (Önling No 10) and of course in our silk kit. Önling's silk comes from both India and China and is conventionally grown and manufactured.
Photo Credit: Linda Peall, Flickr
Silk is spun from the fibers that make up the cocoons, that are the silkworms habitat while they mature into moths.
Most silkworms are killed while they are still in the cocoons because this gives the best silk quality. It is possible to buy 'wild silk' which is spun from cocoons which are only harvested after the moths have left them. It is however an incredibly expensive silk, which is also of poorer quality and less durable.
Silk itself is considered a relatively sustainable textile - both because the silk fibers are a renewable resource that nature can easily break down, and because less water, energy and fewer chemicals are used in production than in the production of other textiles.
However, we are very aware that there are challenges with regard to both animal welfare and working practices.