Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Merino Wool - Feedback from a Backcountry.com Customer

In the spirit of opening up this blog to more than just what Backcountry.com customers do for adventure, (and what I want to spray about) I wanted to give our customers a little more real estate here.

Last month following the Backcountry.com newsletter article entitled "The Itch vs The Funk" we recieved some customer responses. The following feedback was from one of our longtime customers. I'm not trying to beat a dead horse given that the Goat, Backcountry.com's gear blog, raised the issue as well. But what do we know, we're just bloggers.

I'm not one for sensationalism and I don't believe that this is what Marielle intended with this e-mail. With her permission I wanted to be sure this feedback saw the light of day as I think she raises some good questions that we as a retailer should consider when selling gear made from wool. If you have some feedback either way, we welcome your responses in the comments below.

In the battle over synthetic versus wool, there was one key factor left out of the discussion. While there was one sarcastic remark about an aversion to animal testing,
there was no other mention of the cruelty endured by sheep, especially Merino sheep
raised in Australia and New Zealand.

Australia is the source of more than half of the world's merino wool, where it is still legal to use the practice of mulesing, or removing the flesh of the sheep's rear with garden shears, in order to prevent maggots from eating the sheep alive. It's really disgusting and unquestionably cruel. Once the sheep stop producing the copious amounts of wool for which they are bred, they are boarded onto huge cargo ships and then slaughtered in open air markets in the Middle East. For more on these issues, please visit http://www.savethesheep.com/ and watch the video expose.

I believe that once you realize the horrible conditions in which these sheep live, you
will not be as supportive of wearing wool, no matter how soft or stink-free it may be,
unless you know that the sheep were not maimed for it. There are some companies,
such as SmartWool, that are trying to change the practices of ranchers so that sheep are
treated compassionately, but unless a company flat-out boycotts wool from those
sources, there is no way to tell if your garment is a product of animal abuse.

Also, it's good to note that some wool products work better than others. While my
SmartWool underwear is fantastic, I can tell you from my experience this weekend that the SmartWool snowboarding socks feel like they are made of tiny razorblades, slicing the
skin off the soles of your feet, after you have been riding for a few hours. Seriously.

It would have been great if you mentioned that many synthetic fibers are made from
recycled plastic bottles among the strengths of those garments. I think not wanting to
shower or change your clothes are pretty poor reasons not to wear synthetic garments. However, if those are legitimate reasons, tell those folks to come to Vermont. I have been served while covered head-to-toe in mud after mountain biking without any disapproving stares.

Maybe you don't care because you think sheep are insignificant. That's your choice, but once you realize what mulesing actually involves, I am sure you won't have much of an appetite.

Lastly, if this email sounds mean or overly critical to you, I apologise, as that was not its intent. I assure you that I am kind and nice and I didn't write this email to ruin your day. I love the newsletter, but I also love animals. I really do hope you visit savethesheep.com because you have a really amazing opportunity to use your platform to make sure that backcountry.com gets its products from sources with animal welfare standards.

Thanks for listenting.

Marielle Vena
Backcountry.com Customer

Editors note: We have confirmed with vendors like Ibex who have agreements with their wool providers that no mulesing is currently taking place with the wool growers.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

As an outdoorsman and researcher on sheep, I find the above letter sensationalist and plain wrong. The idea that farmers use 'garden shears' is crazy and clearly aimed at creating an emotial tug on the readers heartstrings.

I would like to take some of these people out to a working property and show them what happens to sheep if they do not have the rear portions of wool removed - the maggots eat them from inside out, the sheep are in constant pain, it would be inhumane to grow wool that way. If you want to see something shocking and disgusting, come to a farm and look at sheep that have not had wool removed.

As for the shipping of sheep to asian regions - this only occurs with certain animals and the practice has largely been stopped by the Australian government. Most sheep are slaughtered and fed to Australians, New zealanders who enjoy eating the meat.

Wool is a fantastic product to wear in the outdoors, the newer fabrics can be washed with normal clothes, are not itchy, and hold their shape well. I would recommend Icebreaker (NZ) as a company that produces fine wool garments for the outdoors.

As for your wonderful synthetic garmets - sure, they are made from recycled plastic bottles - in reality, the plastics used are sourced from only a small percentage of recycled materials and only certain companies are involved in this practice. The carbon emissions from the creation, not to mention the gasses put out into the atmosphere by the recycling process, are pretty bad for our environment - so your environmentally friendly garmet is not so great.

If you really want to help the environment and the sheep - and backcountry.com would probably hate m for saying this - go to your local oppurtunity or recycled clothing shop, buy a pre loved garment that did the job 10 years ago and will do the job now. You wont be the most stylish on the mountain, but think about those lucky sheep and that cleaner air.

4/15/2007 1:28 PM


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