By 2050, the global demand for new textile fibers is estimated to increase by 150 percent, fueled by business models based on overproduction, overconsumption and low production costs. This increase comes with a huge environmental challenge since most fibers today consist of virgin and fossil-based synthetic fibers and water-intense cotton. Swedish brands are therefore searching for a regional, bio-based and reusable material with circular potential.
Wool represents one such promising future material. However today, most Swedish wool is primarily seen as a by-product of the meat industry and there is a lack of infrastructure for larger-scale collection and standardized quality assurance and classification of wool. Consequently, Swedish brands import refined wool from different parts of the world, often with a higher environmental footprint and produced with lower animal welfare standards than Swedish wool.
Lack of the right market conditions is hindering the uptake of Swedish wool.
By contributing to the right market conditions and innovative product development, there is an opportunity to redirect a linear stream of this discarded resource to become a circular and sustainable material in the world of textiles and fashion.
– Johanna Behrman, Project Manager Circular Economy, Axfoundation
Axfoundation is running the Swedish Wool Initiative where actors across the value chain collaborate to build system capacity, scale up the use of Swedish wool and contribute to the transition to a sustainable and circular industry for fashion, outdoor and home textiles. The initiative brings together companies that normally would be competitors, but who in this context collaborate on a joint sustainability issue. Together with the project’s academic partners and expert group, solutions are developed based on both research and practical experience.
Swedish wool is locally produced, bio-based, recyclable and produced in a country with high requirements for animal welfare.
During the planned project period (2020-2024), the initiative is expected to contribute to:
- A climate-neutral and circular industry for fashion, outdoor and home textiles through the development of circular products based on the residual flow of Swedish wool.
- A resource-efficient and resilient value chain for Swedish wool.
- Increased competitiveness for the raw material and products of, Swedish wool.
- A socially sustainable textile industry in transformation into a circular economy, e.g., through increased knowledge of circular design and product development.
Steps towards these results have already been taken:
- The project partners increased their use of Swedish wool in their production by over 13x between 2019 to 2021 from 4,5 tons to over 60 tons.
- By the end of 2022, the project had developed and launched a framework for quality assurance in each step from wool production to sales. This framework includes a classification system for Swedish wool, a previously lacking market mechanism.
- A wool broker role for centralized collection and quality assurance is being developed further to bridge the gap between wool producers and the industry.
- Several new, innovative prototypes based on circular design principles and made from Swedish wool are being developed.
- A yarn based on Swedish wool that would normally not be accepted in the spinning process due to a high amount of organic material has been successfully developed. This is used for further prototyping to bring commercially scalable and circularly designed products based on discarded Swedish wool to the market.
- A business modeling has been carried out to ensure that solutions in the project create value for all actors involved.
- A sustainability analysis of the raw material has been carried out, to identify sustainability benefits and strengthen its competitiveness. The results indicate that wool production in Sweden can have lower climate impact and several other positive effects compared to wool production in other countries.
- The project has launched the Swedish Wool Standard, the first Swedish classification system for wool. The standard simplifies the process of selling and purchasing high-quality Swedish wool, opening up completely new market possibilities.
Hanna Skoog visits Norrby Gård and meets wool classifier Linnea Eklund.
Developing viable and sustainable market conditions for Swedish wool is a complex task requiring collaboration, incentives and practical solutions throughout the value chain. The project has identified the prioritized bottlenecks. Now the journey continues to find the right practical solutions and ways forward to address these.
– Hanna Hobohm Skoog, Program Director Circular Economy, Axfoundation
Did you know that….
- In Sweden, approximately 1,000 tons of wool are produced annually, of which only half is utilized. At the same time, Sweden imported about 1,745 tons of wool in the form of raw wool, carded wool, and yarn (2020).
- In addition to being bio-based and recyclable, wool is also naturally antibacterial, dirt-repellent and flame-retardant. The unique composition of this raw material means there is no need to add chemicals such as PFAS or biocides to achieve these highly desirable features. This is an enabling factor for circular material flows.
Source: Swedish Sheep Breeding Association, Wargön Innovation
The Swedish Wool Initiative is a collaboration between about 20 organizations. Axfoundation is the project lead and collaborates with, among others Filippa K, Fjällräven, Tiger of Sweden, Klippan Yllefabrik, Smart Textiles/Science Park Borås, IVL Swedish Environmental Institute, Chalmers Industriteknik, Circularista, LE Ullkonsult, Norrby gård, Västkustens Ullinsamling/CC Wool, Ullcentrum, Ullkontoret, Svenska Fårklipparförbundet, LRF and TrusTrace.
Animalia, Swedish Sheep Breeding Association and Norilia are part of the project’s group of experts. The project is supported by Sweden’s innovation agency Vinnova’s program area Sustainable industry.
Projects within Circular Economy
Polyester Recycling Pilot Project