Daily Digest

Bison Wool: A New Sustainable Material?


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New Sustainable Material

As sustainability becomes an increasingly pressing priority in fashion and beauty landscapes, materials with a minimal ecological impact are being sought out.

A range of brands which is looking to shrink their environmental footprints.

women sorting bison fibre - New Sustainable Material

Fashion brands are trying to diversify materials from landfill that could be made into clothing.

They talk about using deadstock fabric or turning plastic bottles into recycled nylon.

However, United by Blue, an outdoor apparel brand, has focused its sights on something a bit less ubiquitous: bison wool.

Bison in the snow - New Sustainable Material

Bison have thick, shaggy coats contain fibres that are warmer than sheep’s wool.

Additionally, it can be as soft as cashmere, which was historically prized by the Indigenous communities lived close to them.

On the other hand, contemporary ranchers raising the animals for meat often discard or throw away those coats.

This is where United by Blue steps in, working with ranchers to salvage this valuable fibre and turn it into warm, high-performing garments.

“Simply put, we take the hide, rescue the fibre from landfills or from being burned.

Then return the hides to the meat processing plants so that they can pass them on to tanneries,” says Brendan Rauth, Senior Apparel Designer at United by Blue.

“We did that primarily to keep the desirable fibre from being wasted.”

Bison eating in the nature - New Sustainable Material

what can be new sustainable material?

Bison Wool’s properties 

Just like merino wool grown by merino sheep, bison wool is produced by bison.

It also called American buffalo.

Bison wool can be broken down into two main categories.

Bison down, which makes up the animal’s undercoat, is a soft fibre with a micron count of about 15.

It means the individual strands have a tiny diameter and are incredibly soft.

For comparison’s sake: cashmere has a micron count of 14, while extra-fine merino wool has a micron count starting at 19.

The lower the number, the softer the fibre.

“It’s pretty much the equivalent of cashmere,” says Rauth of bison down.”

It’s a luxury fibre. It has all the benefits you would get from superfine wool like cashmere.

” These downy fibres makeup roughly 15% of the bison’s coat and can be used to knit items like socks, gloves or hats.

Bison down is used for this purpose by a few other small brands besides United by Blue, like The Buffalo Wool Co.

Group of bisons in the nature - New Sustainable Material

What’s kore about Sustainable Material available?

The second part of the coat called guard hairs.

It makes up the vast majority of the bison’s coat.

As far as Rauth knows, United by Blue is the only brand using them in apparel.

“We’re using the guard hairs, which are the coarser fibres, for insulation.

It has a lot of the same properties that you would get from merino wool: anti-microbial.

There’s no known allergy to it and it’s warm when wet.

It’s a hollow fibre, so it has great insulation properties,” Rauth says.

Unlike sheep or goats, which can be shorn regularly throughout their lives.

“Bison are not super interested in holding still to be sheared,” Rauth says.

As a result, the fibre can only be gathered as a step before tanning the hides for leather.

 Learning the fact that fibre can’t be harvested from still-living animals.

It may not be great news from a vegetarian perspective.

It’s more likely that Zero waste advocates would argue that it still makes more sense to rescue fibre that was being created anyway.

Moreover, it is otherwise destined for landfill.

Brown Bison in the nature - New Sustainable Material

What is the next step of New Sustainable Material?

“Preparing the fibres for use in apparel involves six or seven different steps”

Rauth says that “There are the original bison ranchers who contract with, the meat industry packing plants.

We lease the hides from, the scouring facility, which is where they wash the hides and where they separate [the fibre from the hides].”

“Then the fibre gets split into two different batches:

One for the production of yarn textiles like hats and beanies.

And the other which goes to an insulation manufacturer.”

United By Blue logo - New Sustainable Material

With very little established infrastructure in place to support it, it is part of why bison wool isn’t already more common in apparel.

“The management of the supply chain is costly and labour intensive,” Rauth says.
We have a couple of people here on staff who most of their job is just managing the bison supply chain…

There is no just fibre supplier set up for bison currently.

Most people don’t do it just because it’s a total pain.

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The other difficulty is the inconsistency of yield.

Rather than regularly throughout it, Bison fibre is collected at the end of the animal’s life.

It’s much harder to estimate how much fibre will be available.

Also, it makes it harder to plan how much product you can make with it.

Note: This article has been modified to match the layout of our website. Access the original article here

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