My previous project was about ‘Material and Emotional Values’ and I based that on my perspective of materials and process in regards to animal by-products and animals being treated purely as a resource (or material) and the lack of animal welfare, care and compassion in obtaining that material (the process). I focused on cow leather and produced two nesting stools that represented a mother cow and her calf as a reminder of the source of the leather material and the animal’s ability to care, love and subsequently: suffer. In that project I replaced the leather with cork fabric and a homemade leather alternative – it wasn’t ‘refined’ by any means but that was a project focused on gaining new skills (mainly in prototyping) and to find a subject area for focus in our FMP – which it did so.. success! It’s worth mentioning I was also trying to use environmental alternatives as this is often an argument ‘for’ animal by-products that had a ‘cradle to cradle’ life cycle and show this can be achieved with animal-free materials: hence my interest in cork!
For this project, I wanted to focus on another controversial by-product: wool. Why? – because the majority wouldn’t even comprehend it could ever be considered unethical as it is: “just like a haircut for the sheep”. Yes, I believe there are a select few ethical wool farms that do have the sheep’s welfare at the forefront of the business and will not sell on the animal when they are no longer ‘of use’ to the meat or sheep leather industry. However, this is unfortunately not the case for a lot of wool – especially if it comes from oversea countries where animal welfare laws are much more lax. I want to replace the wool with a plant-based, cradle-to-cradle, ecological, natural material with incredible material properties: cork! I am not replicating the wool with cork – no one is going to start knitting cork jumpers – it’s related to the similar way the are obtained [see PDF attachment for image reference] with this ‘shearing’ of the cork bark from the tree and the wool from the sheep and there different attitude/narratives to both sources.
The cork tree takes 25 years to mature and can be harvested ONCE every 9 to 13 years.
Sheep can be shorn from the age of one and can be shorn once, possibly twice, a year and shearing sheds can shear up to 3,000 sheep a day – you can see the issue.
Cork is seen as sustainable and environmental as the cork tree is cut down. The sentient sheep is not always treated with the same care and with documented evidence of poorly trained shearers working on commission in oversea countries shearing as fast as they can (injuring, scaring, torturing or even killing the sheep in the process) coming to the surface every year. And like I said previously: if the wool industry doesn’t effect them: the meat or leather industry they are discarded to ultimately will. My material choice is to show the paradox in the two narratives of ‘harvesting’ the material and challenging the audiences to think about where their materials are sourced and how they can source more ethically: this could begin with maybe choosing a ethical wool farm/sanctuary where the customer is ensured the animal is treated well or a plant-based alternative such as bamboo wool, hemp wool, soy and so many other amazing alternatives that offer similar, and dare I say, potentially better alternative. A lot of people subscribe to the ‘wool’ material because of the natural and eco label it holds, so I want to showcase natural alternatives.
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