Alternatives to Acrylic Wool

Woollen clothing has been around almost as long as sheep. So when did Acrylic take over and why ? When shopping for any kind of knitwear, Acrylic Wool seems to be dominant. With Acrylic being inherently unsustainable I decided to take a look at the alternatives. Of course there is recycled acrylic but not often seen at more than 50% in products. Why are there no 100% recycled Acrylic products and what are the Alternatives to Acrylic Wool ?

Why did Acrylic take over ?

Firstly I’ll start with a quick summary of how acrylic came to be. Invented in the 1890’s in Germany and becoming popular in the 1950s. Acrylic is an easier to care for, cheaper to mass produce alternative to wool. These properties meant acrylic could take the market by storm. By the 1990s, acrylic had replaced sheep wool in most clothing, blanket, carpets. Anything really. Sheep wool became a premium product and now has mostly disappeared for several reasons. Critically the price of processing a fleece into yarn meant acrylic was much cheaper to mass produce.

Holding many advantages, acrylic is:

  • Lightweight
  • Soft
  • Warm
  • Unappealing to Moths
  • Machine washable
  • Quick Drying
  • Easy to Dye
  • Cost Effective

As well as this list there are a few disadvantages, for the purpose of this blog I am looking at the sustainability. Due to being made from oil, virgin acrylic is not sustainable. Consequently, it is neither biodegradable or compostable and will be around for a long time in landfill.

Can’t you Recycle Acrylic ?

Absolutely, acrylic is one of the most recyclable plastics. The problem is that it just isn’t often recycled. Green acrylics are becoming available on the market however are not typically available in the fashion market. As a result Grizzly Wears Clothing tries to avoid any use of acrylic. The best I can find is 50% recycled acrylic yarn and to me, that’s just not good enough. Furthermore I have not found information on how this material can be recycled again.

Alternatives to Acrylic Wool

So here are some of the alternatives which I am looking at…

1. Sheep’s Wool

When it comes to producing wool, sheep do a pretty good job. Here in the UK we tend not to have many merino sheep that produce a lot of very soft wool. This means that Australia is the main source of merino wool. Sheep must be sheared to maintain their health, the result is thousands of tons of wool that gets sent to landfill, burnt or composted because it costs more to process.

2. Cotton

Cotton can be spun into yarn, much like wool, choosing organic and fair trade is better.

3. Tencel

This fabric is made from wood cellulose. With the ability to be produced in a closed loop system, meaning water and chemicals can be reused and not disposed of, Tencel is a good alternative.

4. Hemp

Natural and biodegradable, this material is often used in blended fabrics and doesn’t require any pesticides to grow, which makes it ideal for organic farming.

5. Soybean fiber

This material is free from petrochemicals and is completely biodegradable. It drapes like silk but has the comfort of cashmere, which makes it perfect for knitwear.

5. Linen

A material that needs no chemicals at all and offers resistance, durability and a gentle touch on sensitive skin.

6. Bamboo

If grown in the right conditions, bamboo can be very sustainable – but try to steer clear of rayon, a highly chemical-intensive bamboo-derived material.

7. Woocoa

An innovative material created by a group of university students in Colombia, Woocoa is a coconut and hemp fibre “wool” treated with enzymes from the oyster mushroom. It isn’t widely commercial yet, but it’s an exciting development for the future.

8. Nullarbor

Developed by Australian material innovation company Nanolloose, this is a fabric created by using bacteria to ferment liquid coconut waste from the food industry into cellulose.

From cotton to coconuts, natural vegan materials have never been more readily available, versatile or stylish.

Today’s conscious consumers have a vast choice beyond animal-derived or petroleum-based fabrics, which is a sign of how far material innovation has come and the exciting developments that are still to come.

Take a look at our 100% Merino Wool Hats

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