One of my personal bugbears is textile product description – particularly as concerns the word “wool.” Most of my clothes purchases are made online these days, and it really annoys me to be looking at what I assume to be a nice wool dress, only to discover that it is, in fact, 100% viscose. Take the shorts above as an example. They describe themselves as a “wool short” and were turned up in a product search for “wool shorts”, but they in fact contain no wool at all. Now, the consumer can easily apprise themselves of the 0% wool content of this purportedly woollen garment by looking at the useful ‘about me’ tab – but there is still much about the way that this garment is being marketed and sold that is profoundly misleading. Should retailers be allowed to describe products which contain no wool as wool, or have them turn up in a product search with the word “wool” in it? Personally, I think not.
On ASOS, the search terms “wool dress” turns up 88 items. The wool content of these garments ranges from 5% . . .
. . .to 100%:
By far the majority of these 88 ‘wool dresses’ – more than two thirds, in fact – contained less than 50% wool.
Looking at the examples I’ve shown so far, you might think that price would be an immediate indicator of a garment’s non-wooliness — those River Island shorts are cheap, so what would you expect? Not a bit of it.
Cacharel’s £445 ‘plaid wool’ skirt contains a mighty 12% wool. I’m not sure if 12% even warrants the term ‘wool mix.’ Here, the word ‘wool’ seems to be there to add value to the garment’s generically “plaid” or “tartan” appearance. This is a common error of product description, as is the word “wool” when “yarn” is what is actually meant.
The words “lovely soft wool” in the description of this child’s sweater sold by Monsoon refer to the yarn from which this sweater is made – the actual wool content is virtually negligible at 5%.
UK trading standards are reasonably straightforward when it comes to textile labelling (“all items must carry a label indicating the fibre content either on the item or on the packaging”) but far less clear where product descriptions are involved. According to the documents I’ve looked at, the word ‘wool’ can be used as a descriptive term for the fibre of any animal – so the compound ‘angora wool’ is apparently fine. This merely muddies the waters further as far as I am concerned, and there are no guidelines at all about the percentage of real wool – ie actual wool from an actual sheep – that an item must contain before it can be described as ‘wool’.
Interestingly, Trading Standards does include specific guidelines for the descriptive use of the word ‘silk': “which cannot be used to describe the texture of any other fibre – for example “silk acetate” is not permitted.” If an acetate blouse cannot be described as silk, then why can polyester shorts be described as wool? Personally, I think trading standards need to be updated to reflect the world of online retailing, product descriptions, and keyword searches generally, and I feel this is particularly important where sheep’s wool – a wonderful, sustainable, high-quality fibre is concerned.
I feel that:
1. A garment should not be described as ‘wool’ or turn up with the search term ‘wool’, unless its sheep’s wool content is more than 50%
2. a garment with a sheep’s wool content of between 20% and 50% should only be described with the terms “wool mix”
3. a garment with a sheep’s wool content of 12% or under should not contain the word ‘wool’ in its product description at all.
4. The word ‘wool’ should refer to sheep’s wool only, and there should be a clarification of trading standards to distinguish between different animal fibres.
5. When a garment’s fabric is composed of mixed fibres with a sheep’s wool content of less than 50%, the word yarn should be used when describing its composition.
I intend to write formally to UK trading standards and the campaign for wool about the problem of Wool 0%. Before I do, I’d really appreciate any and all feedback you might have. Do you agree with me? Or not? Have you come across other good examples of wool 0%? Do you have other points to add to my initial 5? How do the trading standards of other countries deal with this and similar issues? Can you direct me to any useful resources about standards of product description in online retailing? And finally, would those of you in the UK be interested in signing an online petition about this issue?