wool 0%

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% . . .

( is ‘angora wool’ even wool? see below)

. . .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’.

(wool 100%)

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?


I am often struck by the liveliness and diversity of the world of contemporary domestic crafts. In very particular ways, the intermewebnet really has informally transformed the domestic into the public sphere. From their kitchens and computers, women and men all over the world are exchanging knowledge about an enormous range of practical issues and debates, sharing their messes and mistakes as much as their proud creations. These people are asking questions about consumer and gender politics, about the history of design, about process and about material practice. They are making things for beauty and for use: benches, pies, hats, yarn, toys, books, tools. Some people are examining the idea of domesticity and transforming it into art, while many others are finding it the basis of successful businesses.

With all this infinite variety, how is that the two least interesting faces of contemporary domesticity have suddenly become its public representatives? The two faces I refer to are the domestics-in-drag who need no introduction here, and those less pernicious, but no less prevalent ‘ironic’ crafters who read anarchy in every crocheted granny-square. In an article by Viv Groskop in last week’s Guardian, the conservative and ironic faces of the ‘new domesticity’ are held up as twin envoys of what is regarded by many (non-crafting) feminists as a terribly regressive trend. Apparently, both Jane Brocket and the Great Cake Escape are indicative of a ‘return’ to the pre-feminist 1950s, that simple time of embroidered table linen and hourglass silhouettes, when the clock struck four, and everything stopped for tea. According to Groskop, the activities of both conservative and ironic crafters reinforce rather than question traditional domestic ideologies, prompting the rather pointless query: “can domesticity ever be subversive?”

Now, I’m not going to have a go at the Great Cake Escape. At least these women are energetically camp and entirely self-aware. Unlike many so-called anarchic crafters, their irony seems less cynical marketing than witty interrogation—a stage toward something that might turn out to be more interesting. And (perhaps unwittingly) the juxtaposition of ironic with conservative crafters in Groskop’s article does reveal something more intriguing about them both than either are in isolation. Brocket is quoted saying that “anything which is very personal and behind closed doors and pleasurable to women is subversive these days.” Here, she neatly captures what was always really at the core of the middle-class English domesticity she celebrates and perpetuates: that is, the dark heart of eccentricity and taboo beating beneath David Lean’s “heppy” exterior. What I am getting at here is just how close net curtains are to fetish-wear, and anyone who has seen Patrick Keiller’s superb exposition of petit-bourgeois Englishness in Robinson in Space will know exactly what I mean.

Brief Encounter. Heppily unheppy.

But despite her incidental disclosure of the obvious proximity of pinny-porn to bourgeois deviance, there are several problems with Groskop’s article. The main one is that she hasn’t done enough research. She just trots out banal generalities about how baking and sewing are stereotypically ‘feminine’ without actually looking at who participates in those activities, examining how they can be empowering, transformative, critical and creative things, or looking at how sewers or bakers of either sex who share and circulate their knowledge can thereby find new means of social and political engagement. Groskop’s notion of domesticity is incredibly, ludicrously limited: for her, it just equates to cupcakes and repression. But if she had just looked underneath the frilly pinafore—ironic, conservative or otherwise—she would have found a whole world of witty, critical, talented, and engaged domestic crafters just getting on with their thing without congratulating themselves on how bloody ‘heppy’ they are the whole time. As one smart baking friend of mine put it “the creativity is in the recipe and the labour, not in the fact that you scatter dolly mixtures on top”*. While Groskop concerns herself with those dolly mixtures, the rest of us will carry on engaging with that labour, and that creativity.

*thanks, Clare B.


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