From Sheep to Shop – Wool in the North Atlantic

Looking into the different industries of the meeting ambassadors of the Faroe Islands, we had a talk with Dorthea Joensen, host for an upcoming conference about “The North Atlantic Native Sheep and Wool“. The conference will take place from 12th to 15th of September 2024, at Hotel Hafnia in the centre of Torshavn.

Dorthea works at the Agricultural Agency, Búnaðarstovan, of the Faroe Islands – which is responsible for research and administration of public owned land. An annual wool collection has been a part of Búnaðarstovan’s work the last years. The conference covers, how to collect the wool, sort and pack it and later market it for sale, including the challenges of finding interested buyers and opportunities to get the wool used.

The North Atlantic Native Sheep and Wool conference was founded 14 years ago by Norwegian Karin Flatøy Svarstad, educator and speaker and passionate about wool and sheep – both being an important part of the cultural heritage in the North Atlantic

Búnaðarstovan will host the conference for the second time after 2015, and is expecting around 100 delegates coming to the Faroe Islands. The event will present 12 speakers, workshops, an exhibition and visitors from the North Atlantic and US /Canada.

Before looking into more details about the purpose of the conference, we would like to share some background about the importance of sheep in the Faroe Islands.

Sheep farming has been a vital part of Faroese culture for centuries. The islands’ rugged terrain and limited arable land make sheep farming one of the most viable agricultural activities. Sheep have provided wool for clothing, meat for food, and even bones for tools and construction materials.

Sheep farming contributes significantly to the agriculture economy of the Faroe Islands. The sale of lambmeat domestically and wool products, both domestically and internationally, provides a by-income for many Faroese families. Additionally, sheep farming supports related industries such as textile manufacturing and food processing. Main income though is derived from lamb meat; wool is of minor importance.

Given the Faroe Islands’ remote location in the North Atlantic Ocean, self-sufficiency in food production is crucial. Sheep farming ensures a steady supply of meat, which is an essential component of the Faroese diet, besides protein from marine sources.

The conditions for sheep farming compared to other forms of agriculture are favourable. The climate, though challenging, is suitable for hardy sheep breeds that can thrive in harsh conditions. Additionally, the rugged terrain limits alternative land uses, making sheep farming one of the most practical agricultural activities for sustaining livelihoods in the Faroe Islands.

Wool as an important sustainable fibre

The conference in September is all about the use of the sheep wool as a sustainable fibre, which is naturally and fast growing – sheep must be sheared once a year, to free them from the heavy wool. The Agricultural Agency has the goal to making the best use of this wool being harvested from around 75.000 sheep in the Faroe Islands and to ensure highest possible quality – the healthier the sheep, the better the wool.

A fast growing fibre directly produced locally – it’s the perfect material for sustainable development, and it has much potential which still is to be explored. At this point, besides spinning and knitting wool, wool can be used for insulation, for bedding and mattresses, felting, industrial applications, like filtration, absorbents, and padding. Wool’s natural properties make it effective in filtering air and water pollutants, absorbing oil spills, and providing cushioning in automotive and furniture manufacturing.

Advancements in sustainable farming practices and processing techniques have further enhanced the eco-friendliness of wool production.

The organised collection of wool in the Faroe Islands was inspired by recent conferences in Iceland and Norway and the conference in 2015 on the FI. Last year, the wool collection amounted to 35 tons of wool – which is about half of the wool shorn from all the sheep.

There is still a lot to do to collect all the wool – wool is wasted for various reasons: because it is too complicated to transport it to the collection point or it is simply not financially interesting for the farmers. However, being such a sustainable, fast growing fibre, new projects and products will help to making use of all of it by the time.

About 2/3 of the wool collected is of a 1st class quality and comes in 5-6 different natural colours, which can vary every year. Felted and a bit dirty wool is sorted into 2nd class and is used for other purposes than the best quality.

The goal for the 2024 conference is to foster the exchange with and inspiration from the attendees coming to the Faroe Islands. It is a great platform for local farmers, producers and designers to get ideas what can be done with the wool fibres.

Wool is a very versatile material – a public exhibition will show different wools, handicrafts, art etc. together with the conference.

Asked for the next steps in the wool project, Dorthea says

On top of collecting all of the wool, the plan is to wash it before delivering it to mills or wool dealers to increase the commercial value in the chain. It will be important to ensure that the cleaning method will be as responsibly as possible, with ecological soap and in a sustainable water use process.

To get a deeper understanding of the importance of the wool and sheep holding in the Faroe Islands, you must see the website and video of the “Wool Island initiative” of Sissal Kristiansen,the owner of Sisha Brand, who is engaged in stopping the waste of wool and inspiring new designs and ideas for the precious fibre.


If you organise conferences/events in a context of medical, research, energy, tunneling, water/ocean, sports or art, it will be a good idea to bring them to the Faroe Islands. The meeting ambassadors and Visit Faroe Islands Meetings will be happy to support.

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content design/editing: Johanna Fischer / FrauBlau by tmf dialogue for Visit Faroe Islands Meeting 27.06.2024