We have a Taylor-made opportunity to halt the shocking decline in wool prices
Taylor Swift set sheep farmers’ hearts thumping last week when she pulled on an Aran jumper to promote her new album.
They hope that some of her 200 million followers on social media will follow her example and create a run on Irish knitwear.
Which would be great, except that even Taylor Swift can’t singlehandedly save the international wool business.
Wool prices are so low this year that many farmers are just dumping the product in their fields for composting.
So while everybody is going green, voting green and thinking green, in reality society continues to plunder the planet and ignore the solutions staring them in the face.
Because I am not wearing a single item that contains wool, and neither are the vast majority of people reading this.
There shouldn’t be anything wrong with that. Cotton can be a perfectly sustainable source of fibre for clothing.
Except scientists are gradually unveiling the ugly reality that our obsession with synthetic fibres has created.
Nearly two-thirds of all the clothing we wear is made from synthetic materials which are invariably derivatives of oil. They are forms of plastic, and therefore are destined to stick around for hundreds of years in our landfills and oceans.
It’s shocking to think that from a standing start in the 1950s when plastics first emerged into everyday life, the world now pumps out over 350 million tonnes a year. For context, this is roughly equivalent to the mass of two-thirds of the world population.
Textiles is the second biggest culprit in terms of plastic waste, generating 42 million tonnes of dumped product annually.
All those little fibres you find in the filter of your drier are exactly what is getting sloshed around our oceans, filling up the guts of marine life.
Or else the relentless pounding of the tides grinds down the item into the microplastics that have now infiltrated our water supplies, soils and even our food.
There’s poetic justice in these fish, after spending a lifetime feeding on our wanton waste, ending up on our dinner plates.
But against this background, how is it possible that such a superb natural fibre like wool ends up being worth so little that it has even less value than farmyard manure?
Wool was always prized as a superb material for clothing because it naturally does all the things that have been so laboriously engineered into our modern ‘hi-tech’ fibres.
It has brilliant insulation values, while at the same time being able to ‘breathe’.
It also dries easily, holds its shape, is hard-wearing, and takes colours in whatever shade of the rainbow we fancy.
Despite all these wonderful characteristics, farmers haven’t been able to recoup even the cost of shearing the fleece for years.
The latest quotes I hear are of the order of 10c/kg, or less than 50c per fleece. The shearer has to be paid €2.50 at least for their time and skill, so the farmer is left carrying the cost.
No wonder there’s such an interest in new breeds of sheep that shed their wool. Known as Easycare breeds, these sheep may well be the future of the sector since they cost less to maintain.
Not only does the farmer save the cost of the shearing, but also the dipping and pour-ons to prevent fly-strike, and they cost less to feed since they are putting no energy into growing a fleece.
But it strikes me as criminal if an entire sector has to turn its back on such a quality product.
In an era when sustainability is supposed to be key to everything we do, how is it that wool only accounts for 1pc of the clothing we wear? Why
Taylor Swift, one of the biggestselling and most influential musicians in the world, has donned an Aranstyle jumper to promote her folk-influenced new album
do we continue to pump our attics and walls with polystyrene and foam when wool could be just as good?
As one of the biggest sheep-meat exporters in the world, how have we not been able to capitalise on the massive international heritage that Aan knitwear has in spades?
The 5,500 tonnes of wool that we sell every year for half nothing to faceless traders in Bradford is a massive wasted opportunity to create another Kerrygold, Jameson or Guinness brand that basically sells itself.
Global superstars like Taylor Swift get it. How much more encouragement do we need?
The 5,500 tonnes of wool we sell for half nothing every year is a massive wasted opportunity. Why have we been unable to capitalise on the massive international heritage that Aran knitwear has in spades?