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Icebreaker: much bleating

Brrrr – it just got cold. If you’re not sure how to make it through to the Spring, try Icebreaker. This is a new brand from New Zealand that specialises in thermal underwear made from the wool from merino sheep. Apparently, when it’s warm it keeps you cool, and when it’s cold outside it keeps you toasty. Even better, the wool isn’t scratchy and is smell-resistant. Last but not least, according to Icebreaker, their products are made according to “ethical” principles and processes, for people and planet. Let’s take a closer look…

With every purchase from Icebreaker, there comes a little book. On the first page, you get some rather lovely images of the New Zealand landscape, and some close-ups of those famous merino sheep. Pretty handsome beasts, by all accounts. And it takes you through the basics on merino wool: its renewable (thanks to the sheep) and biodegradable (i.e., compostable). For Icebreaker, this is the formula that makes their hosiery sustainable. But that’s not quite the whole picture. Because processing merino wool requires a whole lot of chemicals. Experts from Made-By have put the fibers in the lowest category for environmental performance.

The Icebreaker website fills plenty of space on how ethical their production processes are. Using a code on your specific product, you can also look up the exact “ethical farm” that your wool came from – and check out a load of great photos.


Icebreaker - greenwashing on merino wool undies

“It’s about our relationship to nature, and to each other,” they say. Grammatical points aside, there’s just too little in the way of concrete information to support those lovely images. For example, the online casino company doesn’t publish a carbon footprint, there’s no clear policy on the use of chemicals, and no good standards of control on the labor conditions for their factories in Asia. So as far as we’re concerned, this is a whole lot of bleating, for what’s really, just so many thick wooly panties.

Icebreaker has only earned 2 points out of 16 on our rankings.

Let’s hope it can do better in the future. Here is some free advice from Rank a Brand:

  • Provide an overview of the whole production chain (not only those photogenic farms)
  • Make it clear which labour conditions are acceptable in the factories in asia (publish a Supplier Code of conduct, show how it are enforced, and which factories and other stakeholders are involved). Right now, Icebreaker scores 0 out of 8 in this category.
  • Show us what “ethical standards” actually means when it comes to producing wool (0 out of 3 at the moment).
  • Reveal which part of the production process complies with which standards for the use of chemicals (now, 0 out of 1 point).
  • Publish a carbon footprint for the entire company, and set concrete targets for reducing it (now, 2 out of 4).
  • Sign up to a third-party initiaitive, such as Made by or Fair Wear Foundation – so that we can see some independent verification of what’s being reported.

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