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Wool Blends Offer Denim Makers Sartorial and Performance Advantages

With trend forecasting companies anticipating major town and country themes for Fall/Winter 20-21, fashion is likely to see an uptick in classic fabrics that evoke strong cabin vibes. And as such, wool—specifically wool-blended denim—is emerging as a way for brands to add a new look and feel to jeanswear.

“To make sartorial denim, it takes culture, sensitivity and the courage not to follow the rules,” said Alessio Berto, owner of The Tailor Pattern Support in Italy. “Denim is a living and organic fabric and must be treated as such.”

By incorporating wool into a standard pair of jeans, denim can be elevated to provide more performance benefits than it would on its own. Katie Tague, vice president of denim development and sales at Indian denim mill Raymond UCO Denim Pvt Ltd, said its versatility and thermoregulating qualities have made a number of brands turn to wool for the colder seasons.

“With wool offering warmth without the weight, as well as the ability to be a tailored fabric, it can be used in many ways that are all growing in popularity,” she said. “You have brands such as Colovos—which won the 2019 Woolmark Prize—using it as a high-end tailored vehicle, while other brands such as RRL have created limited-edition selvedge for cold-weather jeans.”

Despite the versatility wool offers, it’s typically premium brands that are looking to incorporate the fabric into their collections for a more elevated, tailored look, said Baris Ozden, head of research and development at Turkish denim manufacturer Isko. “High-end brands, whose demands vary according to their style and identity, and premium denim players are the designated target for this specific product because of wool’s value,” he told Rivet.

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Isko Jool is the manufacturer’s capsule collection featuring a selection of denim with wool added to the weft. The fabrics within this line can have a wool percentage ranging from 5 percent to 35 percent. “The request is for blends that look rich and feel different than a regular denim, resulting in a versatile and washable fabric,” Ozden said.

Beyond keeping the wearer two to three times warmer than regular denim, wool can also provide moisture and odor resistance in jeans, as the fiber absorbs water without leaving a wet feeling on the skin. But its unique qualities can also make the material more challenging to work with.

“Wool, as with any other fiber, comes with it its own set of characteristics,” Ozden said. “It is not an easily workable material, as it needs special conditions for both production and usage: It becomes weak against wet processes in high temperatures and it also shrinks very easily, immediately losing its soft touch.”

He added that Isko Jool fabrics are created with special finishes that allow the manufacturer to achieve better results during washing and “support the fabric structures when combined with different denim constructions, ranging from classic denim weaves to different design variations.”

And with comfort a top priority in today’s denim looks, wool is bound to have a big moment. By weaving the fabric into the weft yarns, the inside of the jeans is softer—and more breathable—than denim on the skin.

The benefits of wool also extend far beyond the wearer. As a natural cotton alternative, wool is an environmentally friendlier material that Tague says uses less water than cotton.

“We are excited to see this trend emerge in denim, and hope that the opportunity to use environmentally friendly alternatives to cotton like this increases,” she said.

Ozden agreed that wool is a responsible option when obtained ethically, and noted that Isko’s Jool fabrics are produced with the manufacturer’s values of creativity, competence and citizenship in mind.

“Wool has always been, and still is, a promising fiber for the fashion industry,” he said. “The combination of wool denim with tailored fashion’s clean and elegant style represents a really interesting and multi-purpose concept for fashion players, which unfortunately has not gotten enough attention from the business yet.”

So, what’s preventing the supply chain from incorporating more wool into denim fashion? Tague blames it on pricing.

“[Wool] is still a more expensive option to 100 percent cotton fabrics, so we offer it as a specialty fabric in a limited capsule of our collection,” she said. “We hope that with brands and consumers being more and more educated on the importance of using cotton alternatives, we will be able to increase the amount of wool fabrics with demand.”