Fibershed’s wool mill vision is the product of one year’s worth of research conducted by a study team of engineers, textile specialists, and the Fibershed staff. We sought to understand the viability of creating a regional milling economy fueled by our homegrown and currently undervalued wool resources.
We constructed an ideal technical roadmap for a closed-loop mill design utilizing renewable energy, water recycling, and composting systems. The products from the mill were analyzed and shown to have a high potential for net carbon benefit.
Currently only .03% of California’s wool is being processed within the state, and yet California remains a net importer of wool goods. The Mill design was created to support our local farms and ranches through placing a higher value on wool fiber, while providing livelihoods, as well as ecologically sensitive and ‘homegrown’ goods for the local population. The suggested model outlines the potential for a multi-stakeholder co-op that would close the financial loop between profits and the producers, furthering the positive economic impact for our ranching and farming communities. (Illustration above by Andrew Plotsky)
Download the Fibershed Feasibility Study for a California Wool Mill:
Download selected Appendices of the Feasibility Study:
A. Fibershed Producer Survey Data: appendix-a
B. Roswell Wool 2012 Core Test Data:appendix-b
C. Textile Demand Questionnaire: appendix-c
E. Building floor plan: appendix-e
F. Living Machine Brochure: appendix-f
G. Meline Engineering Proposal: appendix-g
H. Life Cycle Analysis: appendix-h
In the video below, Fibershed Executive Director, Rebecca Burgess, explains the motivation for undertaking the wool mill feasibility study, as well as conclusions reached. (Videography by Bright Path Video)
In 2013, Fibershed completed the first supply analysis of California wool, utilizing our own data collection strategies and, through the development of some key public and private partnerships, we directly inventoried 1.408 million pounds of raw fiber for its quality (micron count) and quantity. We mapped a generous sample size of 44.8% of the total wool in California; with a grand total coming in at 3.141 million pounds annually, our state is the largest wool producer in the nation.
Data Collection Strategies and Partnerships
- Sheep shearers were instrumental in supporting our data collection process. We worked with four California shearers to take survey packets to the ranches and farms, where they collected wool samples and information on breed and wool quantity.
- Roswell Wool (the largest wool auction warehouse in the U.S.) provided micron data and quantity information from their 2012 shearing and baling process.
- Dissemination and collection of our online survey and in-person visits to ranches and farms for wool sample collection helped us verify the wool quality and build relationships with the individual producers.
Our micron analysis was the first broad scale qualitative inventory that has been undertaken on California wool resources. Based on anecdotal information from the producer community, we were not expecting the wool supply to provide high quantities of fine wool, due to the diminished wool market and shifts in breeding practices. However, we were surprised to discover that over 1 million pounds of wool in California is fine enough to wear next to the skin, allowing for the production of functional and commonly worn garments. All wool under 25 microns can be utilized for high-quality cloth production. All wool over 25 microns can be utilized for outerwear, felt and bedding products.
California Sheep Flock and Wool Quality Map
Wool quality is highest in the hotter and drier inland regions of California. These areas also show the greatest flock sizes. The map below correlates the USDA climate zones with micron count.
California Wool Distribution by Color
With a high quantity of white wool in production, manufacturing processes become streamlined and simplified. Through conversations with the wool industry experts we have come to understand the importance of this color ratio for marketability.
Our quantitative analysis utilized combined data, both from our own outreach with producers, and from the data supplied by Roswell Wool. In summation, we mapped 1.408 million pounds of wool—44.8% of what we believe to exist in California, based on 2007 USDA Agricultural Census numbers. Based on consultation with wool industry specialists, including Dan Rhodes from Gaston College, Amaury De Laforcade of Schlumberger Inc., and Dave McNulty from Kent Wools, our wool production is both high and stable enough to warrant building a California wool industry.
We collected land-management data from a range of ranchers and farmers who are members of Fibershed’s producer program. This data on irrigation, strategic grazing, and stocking rates will help us build a comprehensive green house gas life cycle assessment, (LCA). We are currently raising funds to complete this task.
Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)
We will conduct the first soil-based life cycle assessment quantifying the greenhouse gas emissions from producing sheep’s wool and processing this material regionally into cloth. A literature review will be performed to estimate greenhouse gas emissions from all phases of garment production, including: animal raising (including enteric fermentation and manure management), land management (including grazing practices, feed production, fertilizers, irrigation, etc.), fiber processing, fabric production (including dyes), garment production, and transportation. Potential emissions offsets will be studied and may be attainable if soils are sequestering carbon, waste materials are diverted from landfills, or land conversion is avoided.
To assess the potential for greenhouse gas savings through regionally farmed and processed wool garments, we will also estimate emissions from alternative garment production (e.g., conventional wool, organic cotton, conventional cotton). This ‘soil-to-skin’ LCA will set a new standard for how greenhouse gas emissions are measured in garment production, by including land and animal management as a starting place where measurement of impacts begins.