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Fabric made using wool from a breed of Merino sheep that don’t require mulesing will soon be available, through Australia’s first-ever ethical wool supply agreement for the furnishings industry.

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Former CSIRO scientist, Dr Jim Watts, developed the Merino breed to have softer, more flexible skin that has less wrinkles and folds, known as SRS® sheep for their Soft-Rolling- Skin. The absence of skin corrugations ensures the animals are not at risk of developing flystrike and therefore do not need to be mulesed like the traditional, more-wrinkled Merino breeds.

Australia’s long history of mulesing on sheep farms has led several major International fabric designers and manufacturers to boycott locally-produced wool. The boycott was led by the animal rights group PETA, which maintains its stance on mulesing as an outdated and inhumane practice.

The focus to date has been on the apparel industry due to the publicity surrounding international boycotts. There has been comparatively little pressure on Australian textile manufacturers to supply non-mulesed wool for use in soft furnishing applications, in either commercial or residential interiors.

Last month, however, Instyle Contract Textiles signed an exclusive worldwide agreement with the SRS® Company Pty Ltd to provide non-mulesed wool, which will be released by Instyle under the brand of EthEco®, to the furnishing industry around the globe.

The agreement will provide architects, interior designers, governments, corporations and hospitality operators an alternative to buying Merino wool from mulesed sheep, and is an important step in maintaining ethical standards in the furnishings and interiors sector.

“We strongly endorse the cessation of mulesing and we are confident of the support of the professional design industry and consumers alike,”Instyle ‘s Managing Director, Michael Fitzsimons said.

Importantly the SRS® Merino farms that Instyle sources the EthEco® wool from for its LIFE Textiles® collection will demonstrate holistic farming practices – providing further environmental benefits.

“Holistic farming strategies such as rotational stock movements, integrated pest management, enhancing ecosystems, improving soil health and biodiversity, increasing natural groundcover and optimising water cycles all lead to healthier, happier animals, improved environment and farmlands and more profitable operations in the long term,” Fitzsimons says.

“To produce a truly ethical and sustainable product that can be beneficial to users and their environment, we need to account for all stages of the product lifecycle – from the initial animal husbandry through to the processing of the entire supply chain.”

According to Dr Watts, the wool produced from the SRS® sheep has added benefits over that of the conventional Merino including potentially a greater yield , as the fibre can grow up to twice the staple length over the same period. Also, as the SRS® sheep breed is naturally resistant to flystrike, pesticides are not required to be used.

Shearers find the smooth-skinned SRS® sheep easier to shear and the shearing process is also kind on the sheep.

“It’s a win-win situation for the animal, environment, farmer and end user” Fitzsimons says.

Instyle  will phase in the EthEco® wool in its LIFE Textiles® upholstery and screen fabrics – LIFE is an acronym for ‘Low Impact For the Environment’.