Hand-knitted pieces have always been ahead of the sustainability curve, and as crocheting, knitting, and other DIY crafts have become more popular, knitters are leading the conversation around lower-impact dyes and the positive attributes of natural and organic materials. Wool and alpaca are strong, long-lasting, warm (even when wet) and breathe well. Cottons are soft and breathable. But just because they are natural doesn’t necessarily mean these materials are green.
The process by which lanolin (the natural fat that coats sheep wool) is removed is a toxic one that uses tremendous quantities of fresh water—and the chemical dyes used to turn cream-colored wool black, brown, navy or red carry their own toxic consequences. And plenty of animal advocates have detailed the sometimes horrific procedure by which sheep are sheared. But there are ways to responsibly and humanely raise sheep for wool and process and dye it without being so hard on the earth. And there are organic cottons and other great non-wool knits for those who would rather keep animals out of their closets.
Below, some warm winter wear that keeps it green.• Eileen Fisher’s Eco Collection has been growing each season. The winter line features plenty of cozy, work-ready knit sweaters, cardigans and tunics in organic cotton and cotton-cashmere mixes, some of which are un-dyed (reducing energy and water costs). A ribbed alpaca notch collar coat is a warm shade of latte, and another double-layered knit jacket is made from recycled cotton. And this brand is all about timeless style, with pieces that will wear well for years to come.
• Ambika Conroy, the designer behind the Ambika line, makes angora earmuffs, legwarmers, scarves, vests and hats from fur that she collects from her own menagerie of bunnies which she raises on an upstate New York farm. A dedicated animal lover, Conroy first raised rabbits as pets, then began collecting fur which was naturally shed or needed to be trimmed. From there she began her eponymous line, with winter accessories that are as soft as angora gets, but also incredibly strong.
• Keeping feet warm in winter is key to cold-weather happiness, and a slew of companies make organic wool socks. REI, Fox River, Patagonia, and Keen make striped, patterned and solid socks for men, women and kids designed specifically for outdoor sports and typically lined for non-itchiness. If you’re looking for chunky, warm, traditional wool socks, The Lilac Hill Farm uses wool from home-raised sheep and alpaca for their handmade socks, and Who Framed Teddy features organic hand-knit socks for tiny toes.
• Stewart + Brown has specialized in sustainable knits since 2002, and the label has perfected drape, stretch-ability and layering in their winter collection, which includes a fair trade-grown, -made and -knit Mongolian cashmere scarf that doubles as a hood and a thick and chunky yak-knit sweater coat. A classic hemp tunic and organic cotton knits round out the collection.
• Lutz & Patmos specialize in creating sweaters that are as delectably soft as they are classic. Their knits are fairly made in Uruguay of wool from alpaca and sheep that graze on native, chemical-free grasses. Heavy metal-free dyes and a technological, rather than chemical, process is employed to comb fibers, and yarn is knit near where it’s spun to cut fuel use and costs. Their lower-priced, more youthfully styled Leroy & Perry line adheres to many of the same sourcing principles. Think short-sleeved, striped ponchos and diap-hanous V-neck sweaters that pair perfectly with jeans.
• Hessnatur’s designers love to create new shapes with knitted fabrics in classic shapes and colors. Committed to planet-friendly practices, standout pieces include Eviana Hartman’s fingerless gloves, ear-flap hat and infinity scarf made from low-impact (and un-dyed) alpaca; an everyday organic wool short coat; and an organic cotton and linen fisherman’s sweater. And designer Clodagh’s yak wool dress is un-dyed, figure-flattering and incredibly warm for those long, cold nights ahead.