You can listen to this article here:
Sheepskin boots and slippers have been an essential clothing item in colder climates since before 500 B.C. We know this because a mummy entombed around that time was unearthed wearing a pair of shoes made from sheepskin – a testament to the incredibly durable nature of wool. And in ancient Greece the philosopher Plato noted that locals would wrap their feet in warm wool felt and sheepskin during the cold winters in the Potidaea region.
So what is it about the wool fibres on a pair of sheepskin slippers that makes them just so comfortable?
Wool fibres have a unique surface structure of overlapping scales called cuticle cells which anchor the fibre so well in the sheep’s skin. The surface of wool is completely different to synthetic fibres which have a smooth surface. The inside of the wool fibre has a very complex composition – the smallest component of these interior cells is a spring-like structure that gives wool its exceptional characteristics of elasticity, flexibility, softness and durability. This spring-like structure is surrounded by a high-sulphur protein matrix that easily absorbs water molecules – wool can absorb 30% of its weight in water without feeling wet – and this ability to absorb makes it excellent at removing sweat and body odours. This matrix is also what makes wool fire-resistant and anti-static.
The Real Deal
Why are real sheepskin slippers better than their cheaper synthetic pairs found two aisles down?
- All-year-round comfortable. Sheepskin slippers are not just for winter – their naturally thermostatic properties mean they adjust to your body’s temperature to keep your feet cool during summer and warm during winter.
- All-year-round healthy. Sheepskin fibres contain lanolin which is naturally antibacterial to keep your feet fresh. Sheepskin also repels mildew and dust mites – an ideal choice for allergy sufferers.
- All-year-round dry. Sheepskin’s unique nature means it naturally absorbs sweat and moisture to keep your feet dry.
- All-year-round soft. Sometimes all your feet need is to slip into something luxuriously comfortable. If properly cared for sheepskin maintains its softness for just about forever, one of life’s little guarantees.
- All-year-round strong. As evidenced by the sheepskin boots found on the Chinese mummy, unlike synthetic fibres sheepskin is incredibly durable and hard-wearing. Find a good pair of sheepskin slippers and you will enjoy them for many years.
Depending on your likes and dislikes, sheepskin slippers come in men’s, women’s and children’s sizes, and as a general rule are available as scuffs, moccasins or mid-calf type. To take full advantage of wool’s natural properties make sure you get genuine wool inners and sheepskin outers with EVA soles. Most good brands will have at least a 12-month manufacturer’s warranty – the nature of sheepskin means it is incredibly durable so if your slippers are tearing or coming apart after a month or two they are probably not genuine sheepskin.
Wool and sheepskin are well known for being used in clothing and to dress homes, but we’ve found a few non-traditional uses for this naturally handy fibre.
- Kundalini Yoga. In this type of yoga sheepskin mats are used to form a barrier between the earth’s energy and your own. Sheepskin has a natural bounce to it and is kind to your body’s movement, being breathable and antibacterial. Most yogis don’t have a problem with using sheepskin rugs as the skin is a by-product of the meat industry, rather than the animal specifically being bred for its skin.
- River rafts. In some parts of China sheepskin rafts are still being used as transportation on the Yellow River. The skin is dried before being blown up like a balloon and tied together with other inflated skins to form a raft.
- Insulated packaging. Wool has proven to be a fantastic eco-friendly insulated packaging material for transporting temperature sensitive goods. This includes deliveries of meat boxes, seafood, cheeses, fruit and veg, deli products and ready meals, with wool packaging suitable for a wide range of products that need temperature regulation.
Sheepskin wool is truly one of nature’s gifts, it is a renewable resource that has so many uses besides those incredibly comfy pair of slippers hopefully waiting for you at your front door for when you arrive home.