FLOCK

felted wool as a poly-quality mono-material

Properties

Regardless of the breed, all wools share the same characteristics. Wool is renewable and biodegradable, as well as flame retardant and its moisture-retaining ability causes it to extinguish quickly. It is able to absorb 50 percent moisture before it starts to drip. It is partially hydrophobic and therefore water and dirt repellent. Wool is also resistant to acids and odours. Additionally, wool is insulating, can absorb volatile organic compounds and noise.

fibre structure

The fibre structure of wool is responsible for the ability to felt and the excellent properties, which make it attractive for a wide range of applications. 

Compared to synthetic fibres, wool has a scaly surface. Depending on the angle of inclination, the wool feels softer or scratchier. It varies depending on the breed of sheep and is responsible for how well a type of wool can be felted. The angle of inclination is greater for coarse fibres, which can be perceived as less pleasant on the skin, but deform less and maintain their shape better. Therefore, fine and smooth merino wool dominates the clothing market. 

In general, there is no one type of wool that is suitable for all applications, each one is suitable for other applications. Therefore, there is great potential in the many different European sheep breeds and their wool.

Recycling

Wool can be enzymatically decomposed in the soil and is biodegradable in both fresh and saltwater, releasing nutrients such as sulphur, phosphorus, potassium and nitrogen back into the environment, acting as a fertiliser.

Beyond that, wool fibres can be recovered through a mechanical process, by tearing fabrics into smaller pieces until the initial fibres remain. This is a purely mechanical process, eliminating the need for chemical additives. Even coloured recycled wool can be reused to create coloured textiles without the need for additional dyeing and chemicals by carding different colours together to create the desired colour.

adapted design strategies

Recycling is often accompanied by a loss of quality. This can barely be prevented, but it can be minimised as far as possible by reducing the complexity of the materials. As a result of today’s complex artefacts, their material complexity increases at every step of the cycle from raw material to recycling: a material is made from several raw materials, several materials are combined to artefacts, and many artefacts are sent for recycling, where some of the materials are returned to the cycle. This leads to high separation costs and complex logistics, which increase the costs of waste management. The reduction of material complexity is therefore based on both ecological and economic perspectives. 

From a design perspective, less complex materials and artefacts seem less attractive at first glance, as a narrower range of contrasts and possibilities appear to be feasible, therefore adapted design strategies are needed in the long term to reveal the range of qualities of a single material.

history

why australian wool dominates the market

Sheep are the oldest domesticated species, thus sharing a close relationship to humans, which has brought both benefits for the sheep and economic progress for humans. 

Today the market is dominated by Australian wool as they intensively bred Merino sheep in the 19th century to archive high-quality and large quantities of Merino wool. In Europe wool production declined due to the economic crisis in the 1960s and the development of synthetic fibres. As a result, alternative sources of income were sought, causing a shift in the breeding aim in Europe from high wool yields to meat and milk. Great Britain outsourced their wool production through its colony in Australia, making it one of the largest wool producers in the world to this day. Australia is now supplying 80 % of the wool due to the fine fibre structure.

Parameter

wool per sheep per year

production costs

selling price

 

European Wool

3 kg

7.6 USD

1.27 USD

Australian Wool

5 kg 

3.5 USD

12 USD

European Wool

3 kg  wool per sheep per year

7.6 USD  production costs

1.27 USD  selling price

Australian Wool

5 kg  wool per sheep per year

3.5 USD  production costs

12 USD  selling price

Shepherding

ecosystem service

Today, merino sheep in Australia are often kept in large flocks in relatively small, tightly fenced areas. Due to the abolition of transhumance and this intensive agriculture has resulted in a significant loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services, resulting in around 20 percent of the world‘s pasturelands being severely degraded

Proper grazing management can play a crucial role in providing ecosystem services, by enhancing the mobility of sheep flocks. The mobility of sheep herds reduces the risk of invasive weeds, improves the mineral cycle, and increases soil fertility. It can reduce erosion and enhance biodiversity. Sheep also help store carbon in the soil, which is vital for combating climate change. Storing carbon in the soil is more effective than in vegetation, as this occurs over the long term. Consequently, there is great potential not only at the level of wool as a sustainable material for products, but also for sheep farming at the level of fibre production. 

As a result of these multiple factors, sheep in Germany are mainly kept for landscape conservation in both flat and rugged mountain areas.

Pastures store 30% of the terrestrial carbon and grazing sheep can help to store carbon in the soil

breeding

As breeding often focuses on one trait, other traits develop in the opposite direction, resulting in a variety of specialised sheep breeds. 

Historically, European breeding has focused on meat and milk, which automatically results in coarser and naturally coloured wool that is less popular for fashion, whereas in Australia the focus is on wool, which results in finer and smoother white wool. However, selection pressure for certain traits also results in undesirable side effects, such as a reduced ability to adapt to environmental stressors. Selection for the highest possible wool yield in merino sheep automatically leads to the selection of animals with the largest wool-producing skin in order to achieve higher fleece weights per animal, which leads to a more complex shearing process and health issues due to skin folds prone to fly infestations. Methods like mulesing, a painful procedure to prevent flystrike, do not prevent them completely. 

On the other hand, breeding also offers the potential to reduce methane emissions from sheep, or restore old remaining breeds that do not require shearing and undergo annual shearing themselves. 

Currently, 21 German sheep breeds are on the Red List of endangered species. These sheep breeds require special protection and can be supported by developing suitable processing techniques and applications for their wool.