Sheepskin footwear continues to be one of fashion’s brightest stars. From core Australian resources to fashion brands offering their own take on the look, there is a lot to choose from these days, at prices to fit every budget. And sheepskin’s natural qualities appeal to today’s down-to-earth consumer lifestyle. For the lowdown on the material, Footwear News herded together everything sheepskin — from its origins on the farm to its therapeutic benefits.
Sheepskin is the hide of a sheep, tanned with the wool or fleece intact. The quality of the skin required to produce footwear depends on how it will be used. If the back of the hide (pelt) will be visible, a cleaner skin with less marring and scarring is more desirable — although these skins tend to be more expensive. The two key characteristics of quality sheepskin are the tensile strength of the hide and the loft of the wool.
Features & Benefits
Sheepskin is flame-resistant, static-free and windproof. In cold temperatures, it serves as an insulator, keeping feet warm. In warm weather, it keeps feet cool by pulling perspiration from the skin, as wool fibers absorb as much as 30 percent of their own weight in moisture without feeling wet. Worn barefoot, sheepskin footwear acts as a natural moisturizer due to the high lanolin content of wool.
Australia produces about 30 percent of all wool used worldwide, and more than 80 percent of Australian sheep are of the merino family, known for their large size and heavy fleeces of superior wool. However, the majority of product is sourced in Asia.
Double-face sheepskin is a single piece of skin, which contributes to a more luxurious, pricier product. One side of the skin features the soft wool, while the other side creates the outer surface of the boot or slipper. A less expensive version, referred to as single-face sheepskin, is made when wool fibers (or the skin itself) are laminated or glued to cowhide, pigskin or canvas. While this process produces a more durable material, it does not have the breathability or plushness of a double-face skin.
All sheepskin hides start out white and are tanned a range of colors, from a natural palette of tans and black to pink, lavender and gold. For a whimsical touch, there are exotic animal-print uppers, as well as embroideries, straps, lacing and zipper trims. Boots are the most common silhouette in the sheepskin category today, especially the iconic surfer boot popularized in Australia in the 1970s. Consumers also can stay cozy at home with a wide range of sheepskin slipper styles.