Your favorite wool sweater or pair of socks has a long, woven history.
Sheep were first domesticated around 8,000 B.C. in Mesopotamia, according to the Belgium-based International Wool Textile Organisation, and the earliest wool clothing dates back to at least 3,000 B.C. From Asia, sheep were introduced to North Africa and Northern Europe.
Europeans embraced sheep farming, valuing this animal that provided not only meat and milk but also clothing fabric. The Spanish fiercely guarded a fine-wool sheep breed later called Merino, and selling these animals outside the Spanish empire before 1700 was punishable by death.
The Dutch eventually acclimated the breed to their southern African colonies and from there the stock made its way with sailors to Australia, which by 1840 was the most important Merino sheep grower along with South Africa and New Zealand.
Wool and cotton remained a significant part of the world textile industry until synthetic fibers were developed in the early to mid 20th century, and by 2000, synthetics and cotton accounted for 90 percent of worldwide textile fiber production. Today, however, wool fabric is seeing a resurgence as consumers seek natural alternatives to fossil fuel-derived products.
In the following pages, Mountain Outlaw celebrates wool with some of our favorite American companies and the styles that reveal its elegance. – The Editors