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CALIFORNIA – A new fleece has been launched by US outdoor brand Patagonia which blends micro-polyester with recycled wool from the Prato region of Italy. Patagonia has labelled its ‘woolyester’ garment the “evolution of the fleece.” The decision to use recycled wool stems from Patagonia’s move to halt the use of virgin wool in 2015 over concerns about animal welfare and land management. The business has since developed the Patagonia Wool Standard which goes above and beyond the requirements of the Responsible Wool Standard.

“With virgin wool unavailable, and plans for a natural fibre fleece already underway, our materials team needed a workaround. So we turned to reclaimed wool,” said a note from the business.

We started in the Prato region of Italy, where our partners, the Calamai family, have been recycling wool for nearly 150 years. Two young brothers opened the Calamai facility in 1878 (well before the birth of the modern environmental movement) with the goal of meeting growing demand for affordable textiles. Today, the family’s fourth generation is motivated by ecology, not economics. Thanks in large part to their recycling process, the production of Woolyester Fleece uses 23 percent less water than its synthetic counterparts, and emits 37 percent less carbon.

“Recycling wool also keeps clothes out of garbage dumps. The Calamai family collects unwanted sweaters, blankets and fabric scraps from around the world, then sends them to Prato, where they’re sorted, shredded and bundled into towering monochromatic bales.”

“It’s astonishing when you go to the facility and see these giant warehouses stacked with discarded clothes,” said Sarah Hayes, Patagonia’s senior material innovation and research manager. A staggering number of the abandoned garments are in like-new condition. Most of them come from the US.”

Woolyester’s Fall 2018 line alone will divert roughly 60,000 pounds of clothing from landfills.

The Fleece also eliminates the need for dye. Added a Patagonia note: “Another big reason we like recycled wool is because it eliminates the need for dye, and the toxic chemicals and water waste that often come with it. The colour experts at Calamai can create almost any hue without ever opening a bottle of pigment. They pluck a variety of colours from the spectrum of fibre bales, then run them through a rigorous mechanical blending process to render an entirely new shade. Mix three variations of crimson, and you have Patagonia’s Oxide Red—a shade that’s as vibrant as it is easy on the planet.”

Editor’s note: Patagonia’s work here has managed to stay under the radar. Other brands could learn a lesson about how creativity, ingenuity and a willingness to think outside the box can lead to a garment with excellent sustainability credentials.

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