the truth about australian sheep & wool

I’m really concerned that PETA campaign about wool and particularly about sheep farms in Australia, and how they use horrific images that are sometimes not real, or taken many years ago and recycled again and again. They misinform people with the kindest intention who trust them- shame on PETA!

Here are some facts about wool mostly gathered from my personal experience and knowledge growing up in sheep country in Australia. I hope it will help counter the misinformation.

A Sheep’s life in Australia

Sheep in Australia live entirely outdoors in rolling countryside with little contact from humans except if they are being moved to better eating grounds or twice a year when they are sheared. They live in flocks and follow their natural character, and they have few predators or worries, thanks to fences and the farmers distantly watching over them.

PETA Australian wool, ethical wool, ethical fashion, the truth about australian wool, facts about Australian sheep
A common sight in South Australia- sheep grazing peaceful.

However, the rams (males) and other young males, are kept in a flock separate from the females (ewes). Once a year when the farmer wants to breed he lets the rams mingle with the ewes for a few weeks, and lets nature take its course. Unlike factory animals around the world, but especially in the USA and UK, Australian sheep also have normal sex lives and have no interference through animal husbandary to reproduce.

The lambs will all be born naturally outdoors within a few weeks of each other and this makes keeping track of the flock easier for the farmer. It’s important to interfer with the sheep as little as possible when the lambs are suckling from their mothers. The reason is that ewes identify their offspring by smell so if the farmer or shearers interferes with the lamb’s smell even a little bit, the mother will reject the lamb and the lamb can’t suckle.

It is very important that lambs suckle from their mother for as long as possible, if they do not suckle within the first few hours after birth the lamb like antibodies that give them immunity and will die within a few days.

A trip to the shearing shed.

Unlike the information in PETA videos, sheep are not usually shorn when there are still suckling lambs and lambs the size of the PETA prosthetic bloody lamb are not shorn. They wouldn’t yet have enough fleece anyway.

ethical fashion, the truth about australian wool, ethical wool, vegan wool
Shearing the lambs recently on my cousins farm in South Australia

Sheep are definitely anxious and some terrified the first few times they are shorn, and some will kick. There is a method of putting your legs to either side of the sheep and supporting their head which seems to be pretty comfortable for them when they relax, and older sheep tend to kick back like they are going to the barber because they seemed to like the process.

I have seen nicks and scratches left by shearers on sheep, but if a shearer is noted to leave a lot more than a few times, he won’t be asked backed. A sheep is too precious, worth more to the farmer than a shearer. One sheep’s fleece in a lifetime could be worth $2,000. Bad shearers exist, but they tend to not stay in the industry long because no one will hire them.

A shearer who purposely hurts a sheep can be prosecuted by Australian law and sent to prison.

PETA Australian wool, the truth about wool, ethical wool
The lambs after their first shear.

Good shearers never leave a nick and scratch, and they tend to be those types of characters that make animals feel calm. The trick of being a quick shearer is to make the animal feel relaxed and cooperate.

Facts and Myths about Wool and Sheep from PETA videos

Sheep can and should live without being shorn. Wrong!

Sheep need to be shorn about once a year or the wool will grow over their eyes so they can’t see, and grow over their anus so they can’t go to the toilet.  I’ve seen sheep that were somehow left behind when a flock was moved and were later found in shocking condition because worms and maggots embedded themselves in the wool causing painful infections that slowly kill them. They can also not reproduce with large fleeces that inhibit movement.

Sheep die when being shorn, wool is like fur. Wrong

Wool is not fur and unlike animals that have fur sheep are not killed to give their wool. Given that each fleece is worth around $100 to farmers, they want healthy sheep that can give a lot of fleeces during their life (there natural life is probably around 12 years but can be up to 20).

Wool is the key to the survival of the species as it ensure that they are valuable and will be protected by farmers.

Wool keeps a sheep warm- they should live in cold places. Wrong again.

Sheep originate around the Mediterranean in regions that has a very similar climate to parts of Australia such as Spain and Israel. Water and snow is disastrous for a sheep with a full fleece so in cold climates they must live part of the year in a barn.

Sheep’s wool is greasy enough to deflect the short winter rains of Spain, Israel or Australia, but the rains of England, New Zealand or Montana mean that the woolly sheep needs to be inside for long periods when it snows or rains. Once water penetrate the wool deeply it won’t dry out and will become very, very heavy and rots.

It’s a sheep’s nature to be wild and free. Wrong

Sheep and humans have lived in a co-dependent relationship for thousands and thousands of years. Remember the tales of Jason and the Golden Fleece from Ancient Greece or the bible stories of how ‘shepherds watched their flocks by night’? Long before Jesus wool was being made into fibre and man was protecting the woolliest of the species until they evolved into what we have today. (Interestingly, in the bible while the shepherds watched their flocks, the food they ate was fish and bread indicating wool was primarily for fibre).

If a sheep wanted to be wild and free, a big Australian farm where they are left to their own device for long periods would be the easiest place in the world to escape. But they don’t run away, they stay in more or less the same area the farmer left them until he (or she) comes to move them on to better feeding grounds.

So, what’s the real story with PETA?

People who are really about the ethical treatment of animals should seize the opportunity to help the farmers so that no sheep is sent to market for meat but each animal can live out natural lives being protected by man. (Right now farmers must sell sheep for meat from time to time to pay the bills).

Sheep farming is completely transparent- you can drive less than an hour out of most cities and see sheep grazing peacefully under gum trees, near vineyards, with kangaroos hopping by….  and you can pull up your car and photograph them. Most farmers will let you watch the shearing and take photographs too if you ask. They have nothing to hide yet they seem to be the target of PETA in another hemisphere who are very secretative. I contacted PETA for more information on the shearing sheds they had filmed in and got no response other than Youtube links to the videos I was already questioning.

Wool is the perfect fabric for vegans because no harm is done to the animal to obtain it and sheep bred for wool can live out their entire natural lives grazing in idyllic countryside and will die old animal from natural causes on the slopes where they were born when the best possible scenario plays out.

Here is a video shot in Victorian demonstrating what a shearing shed is really like -and how sheep are shorn and react to sheering.

This is how I remember a sheering shed, the family helping, the little kids running around. (Ironically they are listening to Pink who once made a video for PETA about Australian sheep and then later retracted it when she came to Australian and visited some farms).

the art of batik in indonesia

i love artisans. they produce treasure and everything about what they do is ethical- slow-made, hand-made and telling a positive story about the people who made them.

the word batik and most iconic batiks comes from Indonesia.  I have seen it done in other regions of South East Asia such as Cambodia and even by the Tiwi Islands in Northern Australia, and there are versions in parts of Africa and India but it is in Java Indonesia where you will find the most intricately slow-made and beautiful batiks.

Batik Indonesia lino print, ethical fashion

batik is a method of dying cloth using bees wax, natural dyes and old antique hand-carved patterns. the artisan apply the wax, sometimes using the patterns and sometimes by hand and brush, then they soak the cloth in one colour and remove the wax with boiling water, then soak it in another, revealing their stunning designs.

UNESCO has actually named Indonesian batik as masterpiece of the ‘oral and intangible heritage of humanity’. the art has been handed down through the generation and the work is still done in family homes, as a kind of cottage.

ethical fashion, indonesian artisans

although the designs are expertly laid out and done, none is ever exactly the same. they all absorb the moment that the artisan made them- whether they pushed hard or soft upon the frabric, how the vegetable dyes came out that day and even the weather. this the kind of thing I love, it makes them unique and collectable.

in java where artisans use cotton and beeswax and plants from which different vegetable dyes are made.  indonesian batik predates written records probably well before the 6th or 7th century when similar traditions arrived from India or Sri Lanka.

Batik handprinting, indonesian artisans

as still and controlled as the hand must be, batik also take physical energy to wash and rinse and bring out the final patterns and I think the designs absorb the dynamic energy of the workers.

certain patterns are reserved for royalty, while other are worn on specific occasions. At a Javanese wedding the bride wears specific patterns at each stage of the ceremony. while you might get a cheap sarong made in a fast factory on a beach holiday in bali or thailand, this is what they are imitating. Because they take weeks to make them are rarer and more expensive but they are a life investment in beauty.

i’ve carried a batik i bought in the tiwi islands more than a decade ago around the world- i’ve used as clothing, sheets, a pillow, a curtains and more as i backpacked the world. i’ve thrown out almost every sarong I’ve bought before and since, but my batik soldiers on. the wax seems to have reinforced the cotton, making it stronger.

this post is based around a photo essay that i found on indonesian batik on behance by lithuanian photographer Teo Gregas.

You can see more of photo essay click here.

conscious consumers are the key to ethical fashion

below is a link to a great op-ed for the business of fashion by belgium designer bruno pieters. he is the founder of the fashion label ‘Honestby‘ and is also credited with coining the term ‘fashion transparency’. it’s all about cutting through all the green wash of certification that is often more about marketing than ethics, and makes consumers lazy.

i have had a few problems with organic and ethical certification for a while. one thing is that certification are often too expensive for start-ups. start-ups are often the birth place of innovators who are often the most passionate companies working at ground level. secondly, they only cover convenient parts of the process such (such as h&ms organic cotton or made in australia which only covers the portion made in australia which may be less than 10%). sometimes certifications mislead the public into thinking the item is more ethical than it actually is. organic cotton does not mean the dyes and finishes were organic, nor that the workers were treated humanely.

pieters’ points out that relying on certification rather than making an effort to understand how, who and where fashion is made, makes the consumer lazy and accepting of misinformation that makes them feel good, when it does not good.

moreover, like me he loves objects made with love and that carry a story that may go back generations.

‘Very few luxury products still carry the traditions that built the reputation of the brand. Often, when told today, the story is no longer credible. There is a need for a new story.’

we need to know our fabrics and our clothing, the kind of skills required to make them and how all this makes not just stylish clothes and quality that lasts, but gives something rather than taking something from the world’s poor.

click here to go through to pieters’ article. but while you are on the site you might want to check out other articles on the business of fashion regarding the otherside of the story and why some fashion companies feel they must work off -shore and must trust their suppliers to survive.

5 truths the fashion industry doesn’t want you to know

This article in the Huffington post, by Shannon Whitehead,  put in a nutshell a number of things I’ve come to know in the last 6 years I’ve been researching ethics in fashion:

1.) The fashion industry is designed to make you feel “out of trend” after one week.

2.) “Discounts” aren’t really discounts.

3.) There is lead and hazardous chemicals on your clothing.

4.) Clothing is designed to fall apart.

But this final point was new to me.

5.) Beading and sequins are an indication of child labor.

Of course, this article is entirely about fast fashion and by buying local or buying quality brands with transparent supply chains, you might actually be providing jobs and encouraging ethical business.

Click here to read the article.

fashion shoot in cuba by french revue

cuba is set to change in the next few years with the united states dropping economic embargos. so let’s celebrate the colour, the kitsch, the heat and the grit on the streets that set the Western imaginations in flight, before the country gets too cleaned up.

french revue magazine recently sent iconic photogrpaher theirry le goues to shoot on the streets of havana. the shots were retouched by cristina girotto, the results- vibrant and sultry.

Havana Street Fashion
Havana Street Fashion inspired fashion shoot

the feel of the shoot is that of a voyeuristic tourists from the west observing the streets of havana for the first time.

havana street fashion
Havana street fashion fashion shoot

the models clothes take inspiration from the retro sportsgear and mish-mash outfits of young cubans who make up for budget with creativity and confidence.

when stars embrace green luxury

What do DiCaprio, Pitt, Clooney and Timberlake all have in common? They’re committed to eco-friendly ventures designed to reduce the size of our environmental footprint. 

Green dreams by well-meaning celebrities or movie stars making a difference?

What is actually certain is that the public image of eco-fashion and ethical clothing has moved from penny-pinching hippies in hessian to the world`s most glamorous. Ethics and luxury, eco and attractiveness are no longer exclusive.

green fashion, celebrities embracing ethical fashion, ethical fashion australia
Vivienne Westwood,                      George Clooney                                 Paloma Faith

It’s also interesting how Hollywood’s leading men are participating in the conversation.

‘Fashioning a Greener Future’ by Muriel Reddy in the Melbourne Age Executive Style section. Click here to read this entire (extensive) article on numerous celebrity ethical fashion ventures.

From my perspective, what is more important than their individual endeavours might be their ability to influence mass  ‘Fashioning a Greener Future’ by Muriel Reddy in the Melbourne Age Executive Style section. Click here to read this entire (extensive) article on numerous celebrity ethical fashion ventures.consumers to purchase quality, slower made items rather than fast, disposable one. What do you think?

Meanwhile enjoy a moment from New York Fashion Week (Fall/Summer 2015) and celebrity backed brand built EDUN (founded by Bono from US and his wife Ali Hewson).

andean alpacas vs the rest of the world

andean alpaca wool
andean alpaca wool

Living in the Andes last year I did some research on Alpacas and discovered many unique characteristics to this ancient creature and its wool. It really belongs in the Andes at high atlitude where it thrives in a herd on dry steep mountainsides with intellectual and physical stimulation, and the right nutrients.

When they are bought by farmers to North America, Europe or Australia, they survive but they aren’t at all organic and their wool is not high quality. To avoid lack of nutrients and exotic disease they are feed pellots and medicines.

Alpaca wool that doesn’t come from the Andes isn’t ethical but simply replacing sheep’s wool for fashion. It’s complete greenwash and it also hurts the brand of high quality Alpaca that countries like Peru worked hard to build. It takes business away from the countries of origin that badly want the buisness.

Here are four reason why it’s better source alpaca from its original source.

Andean Sunlight

High in the Andes the weather is cool but it is also blanketed in rich sunlight each day given its proximity to the equator and a long dry season. In places like Britain or even Tasmania the temperature may be appropriate but the lack of sunlight and Vitamin D compromises the alpaca health.  According to research in the UK in the worst case scenario the animals suffer rickets and many baby alpacas between the ages of 4 to 7 months are lame. Farmers aware of the problem feed the animals pellets rather than grass which contain Vitamin D. All this will effect quality of the wool just like a poor diet and lack of sunlight effects our hair and skin.

Pesticides & Chemicals

In the Andes alpacas are raised at very high levels, mixing only with llamas and require no pesticides or chemicals to thrive. In the UK, USA and Australia they are often farmed with other animals carrying disease or bugs that they have not evolved immunity to. They commonly contract skin diseases which do not exist in the Andes such as ‘chorioptes` that causes itchiness, scaly thickened skin and hair loss. They can be treated- with chemicals and hence the wool no longer organic.

Diet & Lifestyle

While the alpaca can survive on the green grasses of England or warm climate of Florida on fenced in farms they have evolved to roam mountainsides and keep very fit.  They are used to walking long distances as they forage for food which is often dry grass. Alpacas are also intelligent and social, and while they are friendly to people, they suffer emotionally when they don`t have herd life, which may mean shorter life spans and poorer overall health. It might not be obvious to the farmer who has never seen the majesty of the alpaca roaming the Andes, but the alpaca is not in optimum conditions and neither is its wool.

The Breed

Outside of the Andes almost all alpacas on farms are the more easy-going Huacaya alpaca breed. But the finest wool comes from the Suri which is temperamental and almost impossible to farm outside its native Andes.

alpaca wool ethical fashion
wool sorter Arequipa, Peru

While after processing you will probably never notice the difference in the woven wools unless you’re an expert, my main hesitation with alpaca from Australia, the USA and Europe is that it is a fad that will damage the timeless textile as produced in the Andes. In Australia it’s almost a joke textile worn by hippies but in ancient Inca times it was the textile of the gods worn by royality and woven by the elitist of weavers.

It’s also taking an industry away from the farmers of Peru and Bolivia. Instead of farming their animals in other countries, I believe we should be buying their higher quality wool and helping them work their way out of poverty through a tradition that belongs to them.

fast fashion explained in 90 seconds

Here is a great video that succinctly explains what exactly fast fashion is, how and why it has occurred and what we can do about it. The video was produced by MBA Minute so doesn’t have any ethical fashion sympathies but states an outline of the facts.

The stand out quote ironically comes from the CEO of British fast fashion chain TopShop, Sir Philip Green ‘Designers and consumers should pause for a breath now and then so that fashion can become more timeless again.’

Fast fashion hurts style and creativity as well as the environment.

So if every trip to the mall feels like deja-vu, it’s not just you, it’s fast fashion coming around again. Buy better, buy too last and buy only what you love.

Fashion & Water

Here is another informative article from the UK Guardian following up on the one last months on plastic from fabrics in the ocean.

Fashion and water are just not connected in the waste which we allow to flow into the sea, but by rivers diverted  and landscapes dried up for cotton or for the manufacturing of synthetics (and some natural fibre like wool).

Don’t be wasteful in what you wear, don’t buy to throw away and understand the balance of nature hang in a thread.

How can we stop water from becoming a fashion victim?

As water scarcity becomes ever more prevalent, the industry must re-evaluate how it impacts on our most precious resource
Fashion & Water

In direct terms, apparel production does not only heavily depend on water availability. However, the industry’s usage patterns directly impact the global water profile through the use of pesticides for growing fibre crops, the discharge of waste water from dyeing and – importantly – laundry habits at home.

A mere 2.5% of Earth’s water is freshwater and only 0.3% of it is readily accessible to humans. This is equivalent to 0.01% of all water on Earth. Of this fraction, 8% goes towards domestic use, 22% is used by industry, and 70% for irrigation. If the research is correct, humanity’s water footprint will reach a level 40% above reliable, accessible water supplies by 2030.

Click here to through to the rest of the article.

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