January 10, 2018 Road to ethical wool
Since 2009, Fjällräven has been developing its 100% traceable down scheme known as the Down Promise, today considered to be among the best in the outdoor industry. Now they want to find a similar solution for wool.
“We’ve often bought wool through a fabric manufacturer that has contact with a yarn manufacturer, that has contact with a spinner, that has contact with… you get the picture. So, since we’re not sourcing wool directly from the farm, traceability is always an issue,” explains Christiane Dolva, Operational and Sustainability Manager at Fjällräven, and continues:
“But we know that wool can be produced sustainably, and now we’re hoping to take it to the next level.”
2017 witnessed a new milestone for Fjällräven where they did just that, offering a limited collection of simple, 100 percent traceable wool sweaters known as Brattland’s No.1.
Yet the journey here was far from simple. It began two years earlier with Fjällräven puzzling over the first step of sourcing ethical wool, ultimately deciding that the best way to ensure traceability was to take the shortest road from home.
“We started off looking at what kind of sheep we actually have in Sweden. But with most of the traditional sheep breeds, the wool is too coarse and stiff,” recalls Christiane Dolva.
At a holistic farm just outside of Åre, Sweden’s most popular ski resort, Fjällräven found the sheep and partners they were looking for.
“We got in touch with Brattlandsgården, who had a cross-breed between an old Swedish sheep and a merino sheep. The wool from that breed is really good and it’s adapted for the Swedish climate.”
Next steps in the value chain
Leaving the newly-shorn sheep to frolic and with 100 kg wool in tow, they then set off to find a spinner. In keeping with the project’s ethos of simplicity and local, Fjällräven selected a small spinning mill located just 50 km downriver from Brattlandsgård along the shores of the great lake Storsjön. Here, the raw Swedish wool was then washed and spun by Ullforum’s two-person staff in a process that took an entire month.
From Ullforum, 70 kg of fine, spooled yarn was then transported a day’s drive south to Borås, often called Sweden’s textile capital. Here, it was woven into fabric by the family-run weaver Ivanhoe.
In the final sewing stage, Fjällräven encountered an impasse: the skills necessary and the scale required were simply not to be found in Sweden. Thus, the side-goal of local production needed to be set aside in favor of a more suitable partner in Estonia.
Then at last, after two years of ups and downs, the project was able to reveal the fruits of its labor: 76 natural, un-dyed Swedish wool sweaters.
the farm working together.
Towards a wool promise
Another generation of lambs have since been born at Brattlandsgård and there will be even more wool next year when it comes time for shearing. Yet while cooperation with Brattlandsgård is likely to continue, the ability to scale up is subject to the natural growth rate of the sheep’s wool and the numerous other bottlenecks discovered along the way. However, establishing best sustainability practices and applying them to Fjällräven’s global wool supply chain had been the primary goal from the start. In this regard, come what may of the project, Fjällräven considers it a success:
“Over the past few years we have learned a lot about wool as a material and about how to source it,” reflects Christiane Dolva.
“We’ve learned a new language basically and we’re now developing a wool standard together with Swedish veterinarians and Brattlandsgården farm. This will be the basis for our own Wool Promise. We haven’t taken the easiest path to learn more about wool, but without this pilot, we wouldn’t have been able to develop our own Wool Promise that we can stand by.”
Fjällräven at ISPO: Hall A2 202