Dancer Aran was once again in the spotlight thanks to the hit movie The Banshees of Inisherin, directed by Martin McDonagh. Colin Farrell’s jumpers, created by Wicklow knitter Delia Berry, have garnered as much attention as his Oscar-winning performance, with knitwear stores reporting skyrocketing sales since when the movie is released.
not the latest Hollywood moment for Irish fashion: in recent years, Aran panties have made headlines – and exploded in sales – after being worn by Chris Evans in Pull out the knife and Taylor Swift for her Folklore album.
Traditionally, Aran coats were made of thick, undyed wool from Galway sheep, but almost all of the ones sold today use imported wool.
It’s part of a larger discussion about Irish-grown wool, as sustainability concerns have led consumers to question where and where their clothes are made. Just as we’ve experienced a farm-to-table revolution in food, we too may be on the brink of the farm-to-wardrobe movement.
Perhaps a more accurate term is sheep to the store. The Irish wool trade was once a thriving industry, until the market crashed in the late 1980s as demand for synthetic clothing skyrocketed. Deborah Evers is the coordinator of Galway’s Baa Baa Project 2020, which celebrates the role of sheep in wool production. She pinpointed the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in 2001 as another contributing factor to the decline, as it resulted in the EU’s classification of wool from an agricultural product to a waste product. waste.
She explains: “It is considered the same group as the offal of a dead animal, even though it is from a living animal. “There was a big movement in Europe to change that classification, because it coincided with the growing movement towards synthetic clothing, so the demand for wool was of course down. After that, limbs appear and the need gradually decreases. “
Most of the Irish-grown wool is exported to Indian and Chinese carpet manufacturers, while some farmers even sell off their wool instead of trying to sell it. “On average, you get three kilograms of wool from one sheep,” explains Fergal Byrne, an organic farmer from Calverstown Little, Co Kildare, and president of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association. “If I wanted to sell my woolen tomorrow, it would be 18c to 20c a kilo. It costs 3€ to cut the fleece, and then you get 60c or 70c back – that’s all the wool is worth. This is our beautiful valuable item and there is a lot of dirt generated from it. “
There is also the issue of consumer perception. Wool manufacturers note a lack of transparency in labeling, as garments using imported wool are ostensibly Irish. This is most common in the marketing of Aran coats to tourists.
Chris Weiniger, CEO of Donegal Yarns, says: “It makes me sick. “Americans come to these shores, they go into these stores and there is a video of this old lady spinning yarn by hand. People think they’re buying a sweater that uses Irish wool, but it’s wool spun in China and grown in Peru.”
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Figuring out the origin of a woolen item can be quite difficult: you might assume that an “Irish sweater” uses short wool from an Irish sheep. However, it is common for products to be labeled “Irish wool” when the yarn is spun in Ireland with imported wool.
Ireland’s Dubarry, for example, says a range of its clothing is “made of Irish wool” from John Hanly Woolen Mills, but the mill’s chief executive Brian Hanly explains that none of its fibers have high levels of alcohol. Irish wool and is made from a combination of Australian, New Zealand and South American wool.
“We have a well-known craft industry, but for years the mislabeling of products continues,” said Blátnaid Gallagher, Galway-based organic farmer. “Let’s go to Ireland’s Dubarry. Is the wool in their tweed grown in Ireland? If not, why is it sold as ‘Irish’? They are allowed to continue piggybacking the Irish when there is no evidence of Irish-grown wool.”
In 2021, Gallagher founded Galway Wool, a 70-member farmer-run cooperative that aims to re-establish the cultural integrity of Irish wool and support growers. Gallagher had inherited her Ballinasloe ranch four years earlier, which contained a flock of Galway sheep, our only native breed. She completed her master’s degree in agricultural innovation at NUIG, and was alarmed to hear about the state of the wool industry.
“I was terrified,” she said. “Since the disappearance of the Irish Wool Council in the 1980s, there has been no significant voice motivating or educating Irish sheep farmers to produce wool, so what they produce is meat, and wool is the product. by-product of that meat industry.”
The cooperative won its first customer last year when Donegal Yarns purchased a full 5,000kg tongs for €2.50 per kg – more than 10 times the market value – a huge step forward for those Irish woolen farming. This year, it acquired a second buyer, Michael Burke of Galway’s Woolow, who plans to use wool in a new blanket.
Weiniger points out that this wool must then be sent to the UK for cleaning, as there are no scrubbing facilities here, which adds to the cost. In addition to being cheaper, wool imported from warm climates has a lower micrometer count, which feels soft to the touch. In contrast, Irish wool is fairly coarse, unless it is blended with another wool to “give an advantage,” as Weiniger puts it. The growing interest in slow fashion has prompted designers to seek out such blends.
One supplier is Cork-based Yarn Vibes Organic, which turns Byrne’s sheep wool into spools of knitted yarn, spun by Weiniger’s team at Donegal Yarns. London-born designer Katie Ann McGuigan used a blend of Yarn Vibes Organic’s 60pc Irish wool and 40pc merino wool in her pre-spring 2022 collection, inspired by images by Harry Gruyaert to the West of Ireland.
“I thought, ‘This collection is based on photos from Ireland, if I have knitted clothing that is not from Irish wool, fool me for not supporting the Irish wool industry,’” recalls McGuigan. She had previously worked with Donegal Yarns to produce a blanket, and the team put her in contact with Yarn Vibes Organic, the company that funded her prototypes.
“I like that it has 60pc Irish wool, and I love that texture – it’s beige, but then you also have shadows through it, it’s not completely flat wool, so it gives you traditional Aran feel,” she says. “The quality of the yarn is amazing.”
McGuigan used wool to create a cable knit turtleneck (€820) and wrap skirt (€1,140), made to order (via firstname.lastname@example.org).
Donegal Yarns also offers the 1866 Magee, which uses the blend in its Irish wool collection, including the Emma Donegal tweed jacket (€315, down from €525).
Weiniger says: “I think 60pc is better than 0. “Since 2013, we have been actively working to restore Irish wool and we have done that successfully, but unfortunately, I think in the meantime Everyone wants softness and Irish wool won’t give you that.
“A wool product will never replace a synthetic product, but there are many other benefits to natural fibers and I think the world is waking up to the importance of natural fibers as a resource.”
Among the benefits of using wool in clothing: it is a renewable and biodegradable resource, and unlike synthetic fabrics, it is breathable and hypoallergenic, copper It is machine washable and elastic enough to resist wrinkling and sagging.
However, there’s still a long way to go before Irish wool clothing becomes affordable – Gallagher notes that, although she can’t spend €400 on a jumpsuit, part of the challenge is is in rebuilding demand for Irish wool. “It’s still not great,” Gallagher said. “It has to become mainstream. If we started to recognize wool as a sustainable biofiber grown in the fields of Ireland, we would probably restrict its sale to the Asian carpet market. “
Another suggestion she raises is to introduce signs in stores that indicate which products contain Irish-grown wool. “Then consumers can decide for themselves. That will hand back ownership of the purchase decision to the buyer with relevant fairness and honesty.”
Weiniger echoes this sentiment, emphasizing the role of shoppers in supporting homegrown ingredients. “All of this will take time, but you have to start somewhere and educate consumers,” he said. “Consumers are starting to realize, ‘We need to think about fast fashion’. We are trying to support the farmers, and in the end, the consumer is responsible for saying they won’t buy €3.99 worth of clothes”.
https://www.independent.ie/style/pulling-the-wool-theres-a-surge-in-demand-for-irish-wool-products-but-are-aran-jumpers-and-knits-really-made-in-ireland-42126572.html Wool Pulling: Demand for Irish wool products is skyrocketing, but are Aran sweaters and pants really made in Ireland?