Updated: Apr 11, 2019
If you're like me and obsessed with sustainable fashion, you might have noticed how many "ethical" bloggers are promoting wool products, whether that is a sweater, a hat or a blazer.
History of wool
Wool has pretty much been a staple fabric for colder nations since the beginning of time when farmers used the natural sheddings of the sheep to turn it into textiles. Sheep need their wool to keep them warm during the cold months, and that is why it is often found in winter apparel. Naturally, sheep shed their wool during the hotter months, or their owners/farmers would trim them to prevent them from overheating.
However, over time this natural practice has been exploited by humans for monetary terms, making wool a controversial subject.
Veganism and wool
Vegans live by the idea that animals and their byproducts should not be used by humans, including wool. Why?
Sheep are often bred at dangerously high rates through questionable methods (mechanical rape and artificial insemination) for the workers to maximize profits and supply as much wool as possible. In order to reduce costs, the sheep are more often than not kept in very confined spaces, they are not appropriately treated for diseases or illnesses (which are much more prevalent in farms where the sheep are kept extremely closely together) and are often abused by the workers, which often leads to the sheep's slow and painful deaths.
A widespread practice is mulesing, which is the removal of the tails of the sheep without any anesthesia or painkillers because that would be too expensive for the farmers. This unnecessary practice prevents the sheep’s natural secretions from getting stuck in their skin, which would mean that the workers would either have to spend time cleaning and adequately taking care of the sheep or they would be losing “valuable” product that couldn’t be sold to the buyers.
Sheep are also often transported from place to place in huge trucks under harsh conditions (weather, space, water, and food-related), and a lot of them die during those long days in the trucks.
Additionally, over time there has been selective breeding and genetic modification for the sheep to be more wrinkly-skinned, which means more product for the workers to sell.
Our interference with the natural production of wool and the unethical treatment of animals is why vegans, including myself, strictly abstain from purchasing wool.
If you are interested in learning more about the harsh truths behind wool, here’s a great Youtube video by Earthling Ed to watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dUnTyjBuxkk&t=54s
Wool in sustainable fashion
Almost half of the sustainable brands I come across are offering “ethical” wool, and I simply don’t get it. The reason these companies choose wool (along with silk and cashmere) is because it’s a natural material and biodegrade at the end of its lifetime. However, many questions arise in regards to their decision to sell wool, but the main one is how can they ensure that its production is “ethical” and “sustainable.” Even though we could argue the same about all of their materials, the simple fact that there is another being at stake should make us a hundred times more cautious.
I do not believe in using animals or their bi-products neither for their “meat” nor for their skin, and that is why I will never purchase any wool products. No matter how “sustainable” that product may be, there are hundreds of alternatives that are vegan-friendly and made of vegan materials, so I do not want to take my chances in putting another being at risk. Even though we never truly know what is going on behind the scenes in the production of our food and clothes, and there’s always the chance of a human or animal being exploited, I would rather support companies and products that directly line up with my values rather than make excuses such as that there is an “ethical” way to produce wool.
The one exception that I believe is a personal choice is second-hand wool, and in general animal-derived materials like leather. Unfortunately, the animals have already been harmed/killed, so if in attempt to reduce the waste of the fashion industry by shopping second hand I find a wool coat or sweater that I really like, I will purchase it. That is simply my personal opinion, and I believe that we should do our best to keep the animals and our planet safe. If that means purchasing an animal-derived garment second-hand, rather than purchasing new, so be it.
Vegan Wool Brands
-Hatsmithe (based in the USA)
- Magnethik (based in France)