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Breaking Down The Benefits Of Regenerative Wool With Caroline Priebe

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The worsening microplastic solution is endangering not just the environment but human health as well. Caroline Priebe is here to present an effective alternative to make the clothing industry more sustainable: regenerative wool. Joining Corinna Bellizzi, she talks about the many benefits of ditching synthetic materials in favor of wool, which is not only good for the environment but also serves as timeless pieces of clothing. Caroline also discusses the most humane ways of harvesting wool, some sustainable fashion tips, and the best approaches to choosing a good business partner.

 

About Caroline Priebe

Care More Be Better | Caroline Priebe | Regenerative WoolCaroline Priebe is the Founder and Designer of Driftless Goods an outdoor apparel brand for people who like nice things and would prefer not to wrap themselves in plastic. Given the challenges the apparel industry faces such as, microplastic pollution in our organs and oceans, growing emissions contributing to climate change and a waste crisis – she set out to design a brand that values both aesthetics and mitigates those impacts. She recently launched with a collection of plastic-free fleece outerwear made with regenerative wool with styles for the whole family.

 

Guest Website: https://driftlessgoods.com

Guest Social:

https://instagram.com/driftlessgoods

https://tiktok.com/@driftlessgoods

 

Show Notes:

01:52 – Driftless

06:43 – Regenerative Wool

08:14 – Benefits Of Using Wool

12:30 – Potential Animal Abuse

18:10 – Partnership Possibilities

20:14 – Washing Tips

22:16 – Personal Impact

24:26 – Sustainable Fashion Tips

28:57 – Available Products

30:22 – Closing Words

 

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Breaking Down The Benefits Of Regenerative Wool With Caroline Priebe

In this episode, we’re going to revisit a topic that we’ve covered before as we rediscover some of the concepts of circularity and regenerative principles, specifically as they relate to the world of fashion and even outdoor sportswear as we reconnect with Caroline Priebe. Caroline is a long-time fashion aficionado, having worked for many different companies over the years. Long-time readers of this show may remember our first conversation, which was episode number 14 in our early days. This is Episode 185, so it’s been quite a while.

Since our last conversation, Caroline launched a new effort as the Founder and Designer of Driftless Goods. This is an outdoor apparel brand for people who like nice things and would prefer not to wrap themselves in plastic. Her collection of plastic-free fleece outerwear is made with regenerative wool, with styles for the whole family. Caroline Priebe, it’s so nice to see you again. Welcome to the show.

Thank you. It’s nice to see you too. You have produced a lot since our last conversation. That’s impressive.

I was excited to reconnect because, in our first conversation, we talked a lot about microplastics and the problems of them going from our washers into the outdoors, even if they aren’t disposed of in a landfill. Patagonia even released what was a washer bag that you could put your polar fleeces in so it would capture some of the microplastics before they ended up in the ocean. What comes down to your recommendation then, now, and always seems to be, “Let’s stop using synthetic fabrics.”

Driftless

This is the kicking-off point, I think, for this conversation. If people want to dive into that earlier one, they can go check out Episode 14, but I was impressed when I saw your launch of Driftless Goods. You didn’t reach out to me. I was like, “What’s going on? Let’s talk.” Tell me about this development. Why are you here now with Driftless Goods? What has got you to this point? What do you see as the potential for people to engage with this brand and shift habits?

It does play off our last conversation about my concern with synthetics and their effect on both our environment, but also how they’re accumulating in our organs. We have quite a few animal studies, but we don’t have many studies on humans. The outlook is not good for your endocrine system, fertility, and even your heart. Now it’s clogging arteries.

They’re finding microplastics in fish in abundance.

Yes, they accumulate. Your body can’t break them down. It essentially accumulates like it does anywhere else in a landfill or side of the road or wherever. Even before that, my background is in slow design and timeless pieces, and I’ve always valued natural materials. Especially while I was lucky to get some hand-me-downs from my grandparents, beautiful Irish knit sweaters, cashmere scarves, and things like that.

People value natural fibered accessories and garments and whatnot more so than they do synthetic. I wanted to build nice things that people want to keep for a long time but, at their very eventual end of life, could safely return to earth as nutrients. The outdoor apparel space was the one place it was lacking.

There’s this growing outdoor apparel market, which is growing in the lifestyle space, not so much in the extreme sports space. A growing ethical consumer market where people start to have an awareness of the impacts of the apparel industry. In every consumer survey, there’s an overwhelming preference for natural materials. Driftless Goods is at the intersection of those two growing markets and consumer preferences.

Care More Be Better | Caroline Priebe | Regenerative Wool
Regenerative Wool: There is an overwhelming preference for natural materials. Driftless goods lie at the intersection of growing markets and consumer preferences.

 

Yes, you’re wearing one of the sweaters right now. What is that piece called? How do people take a peek at it?

This is the natural woman’s wool fleece. This is undyed. This is the natural color of the wool and it’s a hoodie style and then, all the components, there’s no plastic on it, both for aesthetic reasons, but obviously for environmental and health reasons. It’s a knit fabric that I developed with a mill in Massachusetts.

There’s some wool fleece out there, but there’s no wool fleece that’s 100% wool. It’s usually either backed in acrylic, recycled nylon or regular polyester or mixed with acrylic or whatnot. This is 100% merino wool. It’s 1 of technically 4 styles, but we have different colorways that I offer in the fleece. I started with the fleece one because I personally wanted it.

My young daughter had a boiled wool fleece-ish piece from a European brand and I was always jealous of it, especially during COVID. It was so cozy that I wanted to make an adult version. The fleece is the launching point because I also had this connection to a regenerative group of ranches called Shanica Wool Company out in the Pacific Northwest and California areas. All our pieces are from kids through adults, male, female, and unisex.

I thought when I was reviewing your website that it looked at some of the styles were considered unisex. I thought the one you were wearing was one of them.

Yes, all of them are technically unisex. I designed the one I’m wearing with a woman in mind, but I’ve seen men wear it now and there’s nothing feminine about it. I think because I designed this one specifically for me, I associated it with a women’s style, but all of them are technically unisex.

I have to say it reminds me a little bit of Dr. Will Cole. Are you familiar with him? He has a podcast of his own, and he always wears the standard fisherman-style wool roll-neck sweater that you might see. He wears it, it seems, in every single video that he’s in. I wondered if perhaps you would gift him one of yours, and I hope he transitions because I think his style could use a little bit of an update.

Regenerative Wool

He’s one person in the media who seems to be leaning into wool. I feel it’s a nice fabric that we should consider resurrecting. I wanted you to talk for a moment about this source of regenerative wool and how it’s different than what you might see from wool that’s coming from other spaces. That was new to me. I didn’t know there was a regenerative organic or regenerative-specific wool coming from California or the Pacific Northwest.

Yes, there could be other regenerative ranchers. The nicer you treat the animals in the land, the better your fibers are, but my wool specifically is from this group, Shanico Wool Company, and it is NATIVARegen certified. They’re also working with Oregon State on this carbon project and it’s a way of managing your ranch so that you are building biodiversity and soil health, which then sequesters carbon in the soil.

The ranches also have certain ways that they treat the animals well or better and ensure that the ranchers get paid a premium for all this extra work that they’re doing because wool is in the commodity market, and the ranchers end up not doing that well. It’s a way to regenerate the wool industry and the land and measurably sequester carbon in the process, unlike using fracking to produce a textile, which is what synthetic fleece is. The added bonus of actually fighting climate change while producing the raw materials for this particular collection.

Benefits Of Using Wool

Looking at products on DriftlessGoods.com, which is a site where they can find both the sweaters that you’re talking about, but also some shoes, socks, and even jewelry, I wanted to get a better idea of what the benefits are. If you were to go top line of going to wool so that people could understand that, especially as you’re talking about something applicable in the outdoor space, but then also the things that people might have a harder time jumping to wool with. It’s the good versus the bad so that we can have a deeper discussion about what makes this something you should commit to. Maybe pay a little more for today, but also address those common concerns that they might have.

The fossil fuel industry and associated textile industries have huge budgets that have spent a lot of time and money telling us that these are superior-performance fabrics. Wool is the original and superior performance textile because nature designed it in a way that it doesn’t require petrochemicals to make it stain-resistant, waterproof, thermodynamic, or whatnot.

Care More Be Better | Caroline Priebe | Regenerative Wool
Regenerative Wool: Wool is the original and superior performance textile because nature designed it.

 

I don’t wear my fleece out in the rain, but it does repel water. The main reason why people should take an interest in wool is it’s thermoregulating. This benefits a sheep. They’re wearing wool, too. It keeps you warm when it’s cold out and it keeps you cool when it’s warm out. Instead of putting yourself in a plastic bag where there’s not much breathability, you will have breathability and thermo regulation with wool.

In addition, it’s self-cleaning and antimicrobial. It doesn’t require a lot of washing. The good news is that it doesn’t require a lot of washing of your time. You can spot-clean it. You can use a gentle dry brush. I’ve been known to wash my cuffs in the sink while wearing them with a little natural dish detergent. You can’t throw it in the wash with all the other stuff.

You can’t agitate it or put it in warm water, it’ll felt, but a huge part of the impact of a garment is in the washing and drying of it, it takes a lot of energy and water. In that way, it also reduces the environmental impact of the garment. It doesn’t reduce any microplastic fibers. It might reduce micro wool fibers, but they can be broken down. Wool is nitrogen-rich and a great fertilizer.

If it goes back to earth, it’s nutrients and it doesn’t melt on you, which is great for kids especially. It doesn’t hold an odor. I challenge everyone to, this is disgusting, but to smell their polyester clothing, especially if they’ve used it in an active experience. There is a bacteria that attaches to polyester that we can’t get rid of. We don’t know how to get rid of it. Even though polyester garments technically last forever, the odor might make you get rid of them sooner rather than later because they stink even if you have washed them. Plus, I like the hand feel. I don’t like the feel of plastic textiles.

You bring up a lot of good points about what makes wool an interesting fabric across the board. Common issues that people might have are, “I can get this synthetic fabric for $20 for this item of clothing, and you’re asking me to pay for this wool piece that might be priced more than a winter coat would be priced.”

I think the way that you’ve described, it helps you understand a little bit more about why and the durability of the fabric. Even spot cleaning sounds like something I’ve only used for, let’s say, my pea coat, which I’ve had forever and which is made of wool. There’s something to this. It’s like treating your clothing like it’s something that is, let’s say, more of an heirloom piece that you could have for years and years that is timeless.

Potential Animal Abuse

That becomes a conversation opener with people like, “I’m choosing wool because.” One of the reasons that people might not choose wool and this is something I’m confronting and my growing community as I transition to being mostly plant-based, is that it comes from an animal. There are the ethical vegans who will say, “I’m not touching it because it comes from an animal and I’m also not touching leather and I’m also not consuming honey.”

This is where I come at odds with people who are in that community, not because I think that their ideas are necessarily bad. I think that there is a responsible way to curate something like the natural resource that is wool, and there’s a responsible way to also curate honey. What would you have to say to them?

I think that’s what the ranchers would argue. The sheep have a nice life. One that I’m pretty envious of. I get it. If people don’t want to use animal products, that’s fine. I want to make sure that who I’m sourcing from are good stewards of the animals. That’s why it has an RWS certification and a regenerative certification, which both address animal stewardship. However, no, I’m not here to change a vegan’s mind.

The area where I find conflict, though, with some of that argument is often they choose synthetic and fossil fuel-based textiles or leather substitutes. I don’t understand how anyone would think that is better for animals or humans. It is that there’s nothing earth-friendly or animal-friendly about creating a material that has climate impacts and is ruining the land and the earth where we all have to share. That’s, I guess, where I stand on the vegan part.

 

There is nothing earth-friendly or animal-friendly about creating a material that negatively impacts the climate or ruins the world we all have to share.

 

I think there’s also the climate question that folds into that. Several people became vegetarian because of the climate. They decide that they’re going to do less animal foods with time and that that’s our primary motivator. That gets into the ethics of it and starts to absorb more of that vegan culture and then says goodbye to something that otherwise might be helpful, not harmful, and also not degrade our environment.

I think it’s important for us to open these discussions because otherwise, what we’re essentially talking about is a religion and not looking at the facts. As I look at some clothing and the things I have in my closet, we had this discussion when I first connected with you, I’ve made more purchasing decisions over the last couple of years that lean into natural fibers that embrace wool. Even in some cases, I say, “I’m going to get the cotton shoes that have the natural rubber soles,” as opposed to the petrochemical-based, weird, what is this rubbery material? I’m not sure.

Choices. I’ve been persistently going after used clothes and shopping at some creative used shops because at least then I’m not putting new yuck into the environment and I think that’s also helpful. Lastly, trying to think more about the money I spend and when I spend it and what the long-term impact of that is.

I feel if we all took that approach, then suddenly it’s, “Okay, you bought a nice sweater that you’re going to wear for years that you could essentially consider to be that around-town coat that might be a little bit more formal.” This is your around town everything. You can go hiking in your wool as opposed to in your Patagonia fleece.

I think we’re all super busy and to have to chase trends, which are generally made cheaply of synthetic materials, takes a lot of work and psychogram. I find relief in having a very curated wardrobe that is very minimalist and very small, especially for someone whose career has been in fashion. It’s helpful to like everything in my closet and be able to count on it. One of the criticisms I get is the price, which I understand.

Sheer transparency. Right now, I cannot afford my own things, but I’m very glad that I made investments in pieces when I could afford them because I’m still wearing them, in some cases, decades later. They are part of my identity, my style, and my wardrobe, and they are all, for the most part, because of my aesthetic and hand preferences made of natural materials. People value things made of natural materials more.

I have to say I applaud the effort. I think the primary problem that I would say continues to drive fast fashion is people exploring their 20s and 30s and their tastes, changing with what’s happening and what’s on trend, and wanting to look a certain way. It’s what’s in. I think it’s part of the journey that many of us were a part of and then you develop some attachment to what’s new and what’s trending.

Partnership Possibilities

You’re not going to change the whole world with it, but one step at a time in the right direction, I think, is everything we’re looking for. I was at a shop in San Rafael, and I’m forgetting the name of it, but I’ll have to find it for you, which has this beautiful little coffee shop in the back, but is all natural textiles and what I would call the slow fashion perspective.

They even take old Levi’s and breathe new life into them, Levi’s that never saw the light of day. They were somehow found in warehouses, but they are using full cotton as opposed to what is often blended with polyesters and in stretchy materials, rayons, and other things that people are calling jeans now that don’t even have the same material in them.

A lot of the fashion in there looks more a lot of the style that you’re offering through Driftless Goods. I don’t know. I’ll have to figure out that name and get it to you because I think there are retailer partnerships that you could explore that can help you showcase this and communities are already going to be ready to make that plunge.

I would love that. To fund it, I started via this pre-sale model so that I was able to buy into the fabric and then produce the goods. There are some upfront costs associated with being ready for wholesale. In the future, I very much would to partner with like-minded independent boutiques and retailers and whatnot because I think there are some beautiful spaces with like-minded shop owners and consumers all over. That would be great to spread the word.

Yes, and they have to be able to have that whole touch factor that is very hard to communicate over something like a website. You could describe it very well. You could have influencers that connect with it and share that with their audience, but not everybody has a few hundred dollars to spend on an item. We’re not saying the sweater isn’t incredibly expensive. I have shopped for hand-knit Norwegian sweaters that were easily $250. I think you’re in that range. How much does the standard sweather retail for?

They range from $150 to $395. The one at $395 is reversible and it has a collar that can button in and button out. It’s two jackets in one.

Washing Tips

If you got one side dingy, you could reverse it. I didn’t know that you couldn’t take wool and put it into the washer on, let’s say, a gentle cycle. I thought you could do that.

Yes and no. There are some superwash Merino wool sweaters that you can do that with. I wouldn’t suggest putting it with your regular cycle, hot and fast. It still requires a gentler hand wash cycle. Some machines have wool cycles or hand wash cycles. You can technically put my fleece in those cycles. I have it in my care section on my website. There’s a certain velocity it can’t surf at.

Yes, so how agitated it is.

Yes, you don’t want to felt it. Fleece is a little bit more at risk of felting. It’s naturally going to turn into a felt, even a synthetic one, because you have all these wild fibers out. It’s not like a yarn that’s been all spun together. It will start to clump like a Sherpa ear.

The typical place is where it’s rubbing a lot, like right under the arm or something like that, right?

Yes, but if you feel it’s dirty for whatever reason and you can’t spot-clean it anymore, there are these no-rinse wool washes. You fill a tub or a laundry basin, put it in there, dunk it so it goes through it and then scrunch it dry, put it in the towel, roll it up, maybe step on it, and then lay it and then that does it. Honestly, brushing and spot-cleaning. This is a natural cream one. I’ve worn this almost every day and it doesn’t smell. Sometimes I wear it after I work out. It doesn’t need to be washed. The only spot cleaning I’ve had to do is a little bit on the cuffs, but it comes right out. I also have other colors.

Personal Impact

This very much reminds me of, again, wearing it like a coat. That’s the closest that I could connect to very easily because how often do you wash a coat? It’s like that. Let’s talk for a moment about individualized personal impact when it comes to making these sorts of choices. You’re talking about saying goodbye to something like synthetic fabrics in your daily use, even for kids. I know you have little jackets for the children, some shoes, socks, and things along these lines. If people are making choices to exclusively use fabrics of this sort as opposed to using petrochemicals, what kind of impact can they expect to make over a year? Have you quantified that?

No, I don’t have that. There are quite a few big benefits. Personally, though, especially with the little kids, they are going to be exposed and already have been exposed to so many more microplastics than we have because of the use of plastics both in textiles and in everything has grown exponentially. Water bottles didn’t exist when I was a kid.

I’m sure you’ve read there are microplastics in placentas, and there are microplastics in clouds, in rain, and everywhere. Their microplastic load and their plastic load are so much greater than ours. You can’t avoid it now at this point. It’s in the water, but I was trying to lighten my daughter’s load. Especially because in the baby and children’s space, there are so many soft stuffies, blankets, and clothing. We’ve gotten so good at making polyester or synthetic fabrics soft, but that stuff sheds and they ingest it and it increases their plastic load. I don’t have that quantified.

 

We have gotten so good at making polyester and synthetic fabrics that we easily ingest them.

 

Just reducing exposure as much as possible.

Reducing it, totally. Yes, and then however much you wouldn’t wash your synthetic clothing. Not only you’re not washing this, but when you wash it, it doesn’t release microfibers or microplastic fibers into the water stream. I guess those are the main ones.

Sustainable Fashion Tips

It’s all the impacts that are industry-oriented, too. You’re not expecting all of that. I think that’s a point that people should consider. If you have any tips to offer our readers specifically for shifting their practices now for a better tomorrow as it relates to fashion, what would they be?

For small businesses, they’re the sustainable business models. Public companies have to grow compound infinitely, which is at odds with sustainability. They have to legally put shareholders first, whereas small businesses can put sustainability, health, and quality first. They can do all those things. They are usually the risk-takers doing the most innovative things. If you want these sustainable, healthy products, you have to support the brands that are taking the risks to produce them. Not Driftless Goods, but there’s a whole host of other incredible companies, especially now in the plastic-free space, in beauty, clothing, footwear, etc. That’s my pitch.

I have to say, I think we need more resources to be able to find them. One of the things I like to encourage our community to do is to embrace going to things like farmers’ markets. You’ll sometimes find that there are stands that are outside of the typical food, like a soap maker, or in my case, I’ll often see ceramic, people who make pots, and pans out of ceramics and things like that.

It enables you to engage with the artisans who are doing that work in your local community, making some fantastic pieces and bringing them to you directly. There are even a couple of second-use stores, like secondhand stores, that have a selection of locally sourced new products, which I think is also very interesting.

Don’t be afraid of your local secondhand store because sometimes they will integrate those firsthand items, too. Typically, what I see when I walk into those stores is that it’s a very curated selection of high-quality clothing that is often timeless. You get to touch it, feel it, find something unique that isn’t the same thing that everybody on your block is wearing because you got something that was from perhaps 10 or 15 years ago, too.

I think you get to feel what quality feels like because so much of the clothing now in stores is very low quality and if you shop vintage, you can see some older pieces, get to see finishes, touch fabric, and see how things were made. It’s a way to retrain your eye.

Care More Be Better | Caroline Priebe | Regenerative Wool
Regenerative Wool: A lot of clothing in stores these days is very low quality. If you shop for vintage items, you get to see finishes and retrain your eyes to see fabrics differently.

 

Yes, and a lot of those fabrics are wool and they’re cotton or they’re blends. Yes, they’re still polyester and other synthetic materials, but at least it also isn’t its first-round use because of the statistics around people wearing clothing and how many times they were worn before it ends up in either the trash bin or the donation pile is relatively light. Last I checked, I think it was 5 or 6 in the US. If there’s an update to that, five wears before it goes away.

Yes, I don’t know. I remember reading that someone spends $120 a month on clothing, but they have astronomically more amounts of clothes than people did in the ‘80s and ‘70s. It’s that synthetic materials, which are very cheap because the externalities of their impact are not included in the price have allowed this cheap fashion to teach us that clothing doesn’t cost very much.

Yes, or they’re going to what to call them beyond discount stores. You’re buying your clothing at Ross Dress for Less or something like that without understanding that often, the clothing is manufactured for Ross. It’s not like it went somewhere else and didn’t sell and then ended up there. It’s like, “No, we made this as cheaply as possible.” Now, it’s on the shelves at Ross Dress for Less. The same thing can be true of the clothing quality you see at the Kmarts and the Targets.

Available Products

H&M, I know, has been trying to make some improvements on their end, but they used to be one of the worst culprits in regard to clothing waste out there. I think it’s important for us to be aware, to think about our purchasing choices, and to, as you have said, support local where possible and think about the pieces that you’re buying. That’s my takeaway from today. People can find the selection of your products at Driftless Goods. Can you talk about what they’ll see there?

At DriftlessGoods.com, we have a whole fleece collection that’s still available via pre-sale, and then we’ll have some new items coming, and then, hopefully beyond, some additional rainwear and compostable garden clogs and all sorts of bio-based outdoor apparel. You’ll also find art and handmade earrings, gold hoops from recycled gold from my brother, and lots of other beautiful plastic-free items that are very usable for your everyday. It’s a very practical space.

We have wool clogs, wool slippers, alpaca sweaters, undyed sweats, and tees. Our tees are grown and sewn in Texas. I try to keep supply chains regional. I think it’s a fun spot. If you sign up for my newsletter and want to know more about other plastic-free brands, I’m always promoting other plastic-free beautiful products and brands on both my Instagram and in my newsletters.

Closing Words

I love that because it’s coming from a perspective of cause before your own benefit, because it’s about helping all of these individual proprietors to succeed. You’re in it together. I love that. Thank you for doing that. Thank you so much for joining me, Caroline. I know that we can all send people to DriftlessGoods.com and on all social channels, you’re @DriftlessGoods. I saw Instagram and Facebook. I think you have X, too. Would you like to send them anywhere else?

I think I have an account, so no one else takes it, but I’m most active on Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok.

If I can take a moment of everyone’s time here, I recommend that you take a peek at the beautiful sweaters that Caroline Priebe has put together at Driftless Goods.

Thank you, readers, now and always for being a part of this show and this community because together, we can do so much more. We can care more, we can be better, we can even end our addiction to plastic clothing, reduce microplastics in our environments, and learn to love a little more wool and natural fibers in our daily lives. Thank you.

 

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