Faux fur and vegan leather have had their share of attention – but when it comes to replacements for knitwear, many vegan and vegan-curious shoppers are still left clueless: if we don’t want to wear animal-derived materials, then what do we wear? Due to wool’s reputation as a “kind” and “natural” fabric, and the outdated notion that the only other option is polyester, the confusion is real.
First of all, let’s remember why we’re shunning animal skins. Many people who reach for a wool sweater, coat or scarf in winter are unaware of the journey that wool made before it ended up in their wardrobes. Investigative footage from South America, the US, the UK and Asia has shown workers beating and kicking sheep. Shearers in the wool industry are commonly underpaid, working as quickly as they can to obtain as much wool as possible, cutting sheep in the process and leaving them bleeding – or sewing them up with a needle and thread. Sheep farmers in Scotland and Australia have even pled guilty to cruelty charges after being caught on video harming animals.
Similar issues were seen during the production of mohair in South Africa, where animals were dragged by their legs and thrown across shearing-shed floors. And, just like alpacas in Peru used for their fleece, these goats were cut while shearing and left to bleed. See a pattern here? Also, keep in mind that all animals used for their wool or fleece are sent to slaughter when considered no longer useful. So the whole “wool doesn’t kill animals” argument isn’t strictly true.
But let’s also talk about the environmental impact of these fabrics. Contrary to popular belief, they’re far from eco-friendly. The presence of sheep in Australia and New Zealand (the two biggest wool producers in the world) is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. And everyone’s loungewear favourite, cashmere, is one of the worst fabrics in fashion when it comes to environmental impact. Cashmere goats eat 10% of their body weight in food every day, and they eat the entire plant, with the roots, which prevents the plant from regrowing. This contributes to soil degradation, which then leads to desertification. One of the world’s top producers of cashmere is Mongolia, which already has large areas of degraded land.
Read this and no longer want to wear animal fibres – but also don’t want to choose petroleum-based synthetics? The good news is that there’s more choice than ever when it comes to sustainable fabrics that don’t come from animals.
The first, most common and obvious choice is organic cotton. This is one case when organic actually matters. Organic cotton is grown without toxic pesticides and produces fewer CO2 emissions, making it a better choice for the planet. Another amazing fabric is hemp, possibly the most eco-friendly material available in fashion today. It uses less water than any other natural fibre and is free from pesticides and herbicides, meaning that it’s easy to farm organically.
When made using sustainable practices, bamboo can be an amazing fabric. It’s a sturdy, resistant fibre, which, just like hemp, usually doesn’t require pesticides or herbicides. Bamboo is sometimes used in furniture, but it can also be used in clothing.
Wearing wood-pulp cellulose might not have been something you’ve ever considered, but Tencel (also known as Lyocell) is another great choice that’s kind to both animals and the planet. It’s made with a closed-loop technology, meaning that the water and chemicals used in the process are re-used to minimise waste.
Lastly, recycled materials could be a part of a sustainable wardrobe – especially as a replacement for wool. Often, recycled plastic (some of it from the ocean) is mixed with organic cotton to create a material that may not be perfect – recycling isn’t free from environmental impact – but it’s a great step in the right direction.
Innovation is transforming vegan fashion – and wool is one of the up-and-coming areas that cutting-edge companies are focusing on. Indian company Faborg was recently given the Innovation Award in the PETA Fashion Awards for its material Weganool, a wool-like textile made from 70% rain-fed organic cotton and 30% Calotropis – a plant that grows in desert areas without water or pesticides. The resulting material is soft, breathable, and easy to maintain. This is just one of the innovations that prove that the fabrics of the future are ethically produced, natural, and cruelty-free.
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Cover image via KOTN.