It’s All About Care
I’m always on the prowl for local, ethical yarn for my designs and the #TheSubwayKnits project. But what exactly makes a yarn or fibre ethical?
There are many metrics and standards for assessing a products’ ethical nature, all with varying and meaningful benchmarks. My method for assessing ethical-ness keeps evolving as I learn, but ultimately it all comes down to care: animal care, land care and people care.
#1. Animal Care
All of these lovely protein fibres (wool, alpaca, llama, camel, goat, rabbit, yak, musk-ox, buffalo, etc) that we adore spinning, weaving and knitting come from living creatures. Growing up on a small mixed farm, I learned this simple perspective: you look after the animals and they will look after you.
The idea of a reciprocal relationship between farmer and animals is the approach I take to using animal fibres in my designs and clothing. Are the animals that are supporting me with their fibres being well taken care of in return? Do they access to quality pasture and feed, ample space and the opportunity for free ranging and roaming, a low stress living environment, protection from predators, medical care and physical maintenance** and a shepherd or farmer that is paying close, consistent attention to the animals? Happy animals make higher quality fibres.
**Objection to wool production is often based on the practice of mulesing and tail-docking. Mulesing, or cutting loose skin folds around a sheep’s rectum to create a smoother surface, prevents fly-strike and is most often seen on merino sheep. Mulesing is an unacceptable practice in Canada. Tail-docking, or removing a lamb’s tail shortly after birth, is also done to prevent fly-strike. Tail-docking is performed in Canada under particular guidelines. I know shepherds who practice tail-docking with local anaesthetic and those that breed for short tails. Where do I stand on the issue? Honestly, I’m still learning about the perils of fly-strike versus the pain of tail-docking.
#2. Land Care
Today we often talk about lessening ecological damage caused by agriculture and industry. This is an admirable goal but a tad limiting. Let’s get really creative and think about how our agriculture and industry could restore and improve a piece of land.
When assessing an ethical yarn, either animal or a plant, I want to know about the land it’s coming from and how it’s being cared for? Cared for ranges from organic practices, organic certification, careful pasture rotation, biodynamic farming, to choosing manure over synthetic fertilizers. One of my favourite land care initiatives is Carbon Farming, the intentional cultivation of agricultural lands for the purpose of carbon-sequestration.
Imagine an ethical yarn that is a carbon-sink and combats global warming. Yes, please!
#3. People Care
What about the people? An ethical yarn doesn’t take away from the humans involved, it contributes to their well-being.
Raising fibre animals, milling, and producing textiles must be a safe and healthy process for everyone involved. Again, why stop at limiting harm? Let’s dream up ways to improve our health and well-being through these processes (have you heard of Ayurvedic clothes?).
And this includes economic well-being too. I could get all post-capitalist on you here (another time), but let’s just consider the idea that everyone has the right to fair pay and access to the resources needed to thrive. It’s really about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and creating vibrant local economies that support our yarn and fibre producers.
And that’s my simple, straight-forward ethical yarn assessment guide. Do you have any bench-marks or thoughts on what makes a fibre or yarn ethical? I’d love to hear them in the comments below!