An edit of this article 'How to Source a Sustainable Christmas Jumper' was published in the Somerset Gazette on 20th December.
December = glowing fires, warm drinks, lounging in cosy festive knitwear…
Christmas jumpers come in all varieties, with luxurious cashmere probably being top of the pile (pun apologies!) Yet, despite all its associations with luxury, a few years ago it suddenly became possible for us to casually throw a bit of cashmere into the trolley whilst doing your big supermarket Christmas shop.
Why was this a problem?
In theory cashmere rates fairly well in terms of sustainability. When cared for correctly it is long lasting, keeping well for around 30 years and at the end of its lifetime, is biodegradable. Additionally, with a luxury, investment item comes the responsibility and desire to care for it.
Cashmere is kind to skin in most cases, being so soft and adjusting well to body temperature, it keeps us warm when we need it yet remains breathable when we don’t.
It has the potential to support and maintain a traditional livelihood.
However, virgin cashmere can have a high environmental impact, intensified by the demand for cheap cashmere over recent years.
To make one quality sweater, the combed hair of five goats from one year of growing is required. This is not something that marries well with ‘fast fashion’
Thus, the market change has resulted in over-grazing, there is a pressure for more goats and goats eat a lot, of everything! Herders are short changed and under pressure, which impacts on how the animals are treated.
The push for ever cheaper cashmere can also lead to a downgrade in quality, the coarser hair is used too, not only the soft undercoat. There have even been stories of it being bulked out with hair from other animals... suddenly things aren’t looking quite so luxurious.
So, here is what you can do this Christmas for a warm and cosy glow that will last past Boxing Day.
You might prefer to avoid animal fibres altogether. A great alternative if so, is organic cotton ‘tricot’ knit or also hemp, ideally mixed with cotton for softness.
However, if the feel and thermo properties of cashmere are for you then read on…
1. Follow the work of the Sustainable Fibre Alliance whose work incudes developing sustainable grazing systems and providing traceable supply chains.
2. When buying cashmere try to seek out where it has come from, consider the story behind the price tag and think of it as an investment piece to which you can commit to wearing at least 30 times (unfortunately, that probably rules out most novelty jumpers)
Cost can be an issue when making sustainable fashion choices, but there are still ethical knitwear options that may be a little more affordable.
3. Consider pre-loved. It can be tricky to find second-hand wearable cashmere, likely and happily, due to a sense of value and wanting to keep hold of it. However, you can occasionally discover pieces in online auctions, vintage, or charity shops.
4. Choose recycled and upcycled.
Rifo, a small brand based in Tuscany, Italy adopt a traditional trade of collecting and sorting quality cashmere garments which have reached the end of their life. They spin them into a regenerated yarn which retains the original quality and properties. You can find Rifo ponchos, hats, gloves, and scarves at Olive and Rosy.
Chloe Haywood, an award-winning milliner based in Somerset creates beautiful things by upcycling fabrics, including hats, gloves and hot water bottle covers from old cashmere garments. You can also send in items as part of her ‘I Want Your Woolies!’ campaign in return for a voucher to spend in the online shop. Find out more at www.chloehaywoodlondon.com or discover some of Chloe’s creations at the Somerset Emporium, Wellington.
Wishing you all a season both cosy and kind.