Wool: Still a Staple of Ethical Fashion?

PETA has launched a new campaign highlighting cruelty in the industrial production of wool

The main tenant of this platform is that wearing wool is just as cruel as wearing fur, and they promise that the new campaign will be just as significant as the I’d rather go naked than wear fur campaign. I'd rather go naked than wear fur. PETA and it's take on sustainability as well as ethical fashion in the industry

The main tenants of their argument are;

  • That the sheep have been genetically modified to produce an unnatural amount of wool, often resulting in sheep’s overheating and sometimes even dying of heatstroke
  • That shearers are paid by volume not by time, encouraging them to shear as fast as possible, often resulting in accidents and negligence
  • That lambs are often subjected to a barbaric practice called “muleing”, in which a piece of skin is removed from the hindquarters of the sheep, often without anesthetic, in order to prevent flystrike
  • Young sheep are castrated without any anesthetic attempt at pain management whatsoever
  • Large scale sheep farming causes severe environmental degradation, such as soil erosion, water pollution and wildlife culling
  • That unwanted sheep often end up being used for food – especially in the Middle East where the sheep must be shipped alive, often in horrifying conditions, in order to satisfy Halal butchering requirements

Shedding light on natural fibres for PETA:

There is no question that all of these things are true, and PETA has done an excellent job of documenting these abuses and bringing them to public attention.

While I agree that there absolutely needs to be reform in the industry and that animal welfare groups must highlight these barbaric practices and provoke change, I just cannot agree that attacking all wool used in the fashion industry should be the target of this campaign.

First of all, not all wool comes from sheep!  Some of the lesser known wools that can be used in ethical fashion include

  • Cashmere: Cashmere is a wool or hair that is collected from goats.  It is collectedcashmere is a natural fibre derived from goats, it is ethical and environmentally sustainable. Organic natural fibres during the spring molting season when the goats naturally shed their winter coat.  These goats are usually kept for other purposes (such as for milk)cashmere is a natural fibre derived from goats, it is ethical and environmentally sustainable. Organic natural fibres and so collection of their hair does not cause any extra taxation on their environment.  Cashmere is fine in texture, strong, light, and soft. Garments made from it provide excellent insulation, approximately three times that of sheep wool.  Cashmere is also softer than regular wool.
  • Pashmina: This is a type of wool which is actually very fine cashmere.
  • Qiviut: Qiviut is wool that is gathered from muskox. The hair is actually the softnatural fibre: muscox wool. ethical, sustainable & environmentally friendly
    undercoat of the animal’s winter coat and it is naturally shed during the spring molt. The wool can be plucked from the coat of the muskox during the molt or gathered from objects the animals have brushed against. It can also be combed from the animal’s coat. Qiviut is stronger and warmer than sheep’s wool and softer than cashmere.  Despite their importance to Inuit and sub-arctic populations, muskox
    are considered wild animals and so the use of qiviut does not lead to wildlife culling or environmental degradation.
  • Angora: Angora is made from the underfur of the Angora rabbit.  This wool can be gathered by plucking during the molt or by gathering the clumps of hair once it has fallen out.  There is significant controversy regarding the collection of Angora angora rabit produces wool after it molts. Cruelty free? ethics are questionable when a certain process is followed.wool as there have been documented cases of rabbit’s being plucked of their hair while it is still attached to the skin instead of producers waiting for them to molt.  Raising these rabbits is very time intensive as they need regular grooming to prevent their fur from becoming matted.  Despite these concerns, raising rabbits is considered to create a low environmental burden as compared to angora woolother livestock. Angora is known for its softness, thin fibres, and what knitters refer
    to as a halo (fluffiness).   It is also known for its silky texture. It is much warmer and lighter than wool due to the hollow core of the angora fibre. It also gives them their characteristic floating feel.
  • Alpaca: Alpaca are native to South America and have been introduced into North alpaca wool is ethically produced and is eco friendly as well as sustainable. And they're really cute babies!America and Europe both for commercial farming and as domestic pets.  Most alpaca are quite friendly and do not mind being handled.  Like sheep, Alpaca do not molt or naturally lose their coat.  Therefore, it is essential that the animal is shorn to reduce an infant is pictured wearing a alpaca poncho and winter toque. the risk of heat stroke.  Alpaca’s that are shorn a minimum of every second year are healthier and less stressed than unshorn alpaca. Alpaca fleece is the natural fiber harvested from an alpaca. It is light or heavy in weight, depending on how it is spun. It is a soft, durable, luxurious, and silky natural fiber. While similar to sheep’s wool, it is warmer, not prickly, and has no lanolin, making it hypoallergenic.
  • Llama: Llamas are a very similar animal to their smaller relative the Alpaca, and Llama wool is more coarse than Alpaca wool but has the same impact. Environmentally friendly, eco conscious, and sustainablethey are handled and shorn in much the same way.  As with Alpaca, Llama need to be shorn to prevent overheating in summer months.  They also are a farm animal that has a low environmental impact.  Llama wool is slightly coarser and therefore less valuable than Alpaca wool.
  • Vicuña: Vicuña are wild animals that live high in the Andes and are related to both Alpaca and Llama. Vicuñas produce small amounts of extremely fine wool, which is very expensive because they can only be shorn every three years and have to be Vicuna wool is some of the softest, warmest and most valuable in the worldcaught in the wild. Vicuña’s wool is extremely soft and warm. The Inca valued vicuñas highly for their wool, and it was against the law for anyone but royalty to wear vicuña garments.  As vicuña live wild in an area that is hostile to most other wildlife, their impact on the environment is minimal.  They also provide an income to marginalized native peoples of South America
  • Camel Hair: Camel hair is similar to Angora, Qiviut. and Cashmere as it is collected Natural fibre camel hair is similar to cashmere and is gathered by being combed during the yearly moulting process. or combed out during the animal’s yearly molt and so it causes no discomfort to the animal while being collected.  Camel hair can be used alone or blended with sheep wool, and its thermodynamic properties make it an excellent insulator.   Camels can be raised on very camel hair blazermarginal lands where a lack of water or nutrients makes agriculture impossible thus providing a source of income for otherwise disadvantaged people.

Of course, the most well-known wool is sheep wool:

  • Sheep wool is the most commonly collected wool in the world and is often used on its own or in conjunction with other wool. Sheep do not naturally lose their wool and therefore need to be shorn every year.  Many varieties of sheep have been bred over the years and their fur has a huge variety of textures and characteristics.  Sheep can be shorn without any injury to the animal and with minimal stress.  The environmental impact of sheep farming ranges drastically depending on the concentration, husbandry, and type of sheep being raised.

Is PETA sending the right message about WOOL?

While images of bloodied lambs, injured sheep or videos of shearers abusing animals are disgusting and horrifying to watch, I believe PETA’s campaign oversimplifies the wool industry and misses the point entirely.

In an age where the fibers used in the fashion industry have shifted overwhelmingly to synthetic fabrics known to cause disastrous impacts on the environment and hazards to human health, attempting to eliminate the use of wool because of the horrifying abuses perpetrated by a few unethical practitioners in the industry is foolish.

PETA’s recommendations for wool alternatives:

PETA recommends replacing wool with cotton and polyester.  These two alternatives come with their own issues,

  • Polyester:
    • Polyester is made from synthetic polymers created from esters of dihydric alcohol and terpthalic acid reacted at high temperatures.
      oil barrelPolyester polymers are derived from petroleum, derived from crude oil.
    • Polyester will last indefinitely in landfills and is not biodegradable.
    • Wearing polyester has been correlated with increases in breast and lung cancers as well as premature puberty in young girls.

I don’t think that even all the objectionable practices of the wool industry can justify looking to the fossil fuel or chemical industries for a solution!  Cotton should be an ideal natural fiber to replace wool, unfortunately it too has issues.

  • Cotton:
    • Over one quarter of all pesticides used globally are sprayed on cotton fields.
    • These pesticides are known to be toxic to human, and animal, toxichealth.
    • Traces of cotton pesticides have invaded nearly every corner of the planet, and are one of the primary causes of both air and water pollution.
    • Cotton is an extremely water intensive crop and irrigation needs are a huge drain to farmers as well as local communities.
    • Cotton must be grown on prime agricultural lands, leading to less food security in many cotton producing countries.
    • There is extensive documentation showing that the cotton industry relies extensively on both child and slave labour.

PETA’s boycotting initiatives for natural fibres:

Some of the initiatives PETA have already taken such as boycotting the Australian wool industry have already led to improvements.  They should continue working towards alternatives to muleing and advocating for the welfare of sheep in large scale farming.  They could also work to highlight the ethical wool producers and small scale farming operations that can produce cruelty free wool that is beneficial to animals and humans.

Instead of trying to convince people to refuse to wear wool, PETA should focus their attention on the industrial farming that causes most of the environmental degradation.  They should spend time exposing and bringing to justice immoral farmers, shearers, and anyone else who abuses animals, pressuring governments Qiviutto adopt more stringent animal welfare legislation and promoting lesser known wools.

It is unquestionable that PETA’s quest to illuminate the abuses in the wool industry is admirable.  They just need to be more careful about painting everything with the same brush… or in this case, knitting every sweater with the same wool!

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9 thoughts on “Wool: Still a Staple of Ethical Fashion?

  1. It doesn’t make sense to advocate the use of synthetic fibres over natural ones for the sake of animals. Synthetics have been shown to contain not only cancer causing substances, but also hormone disruption which can be seen plaguing the wildlife. To fill the world with materials that seep toxins into the environment, ruin natural habitats, cause deformities and disease – is that better for the animals? No.

  2. There’s no question that animals should be treated with respect and care, but that doesn’t equate to eliminating all farming or use of animal products. PETA’s contribution to exposing bad farming practices is important, but sadly they’ve simplified the issue too much. Wool is an incredibly valuable renewable, biodegradeable natural resource with amazing properties unmatched by synthetic materials (which are largely petroleum based and often toxic). We need to focus on creating transparency and accountability in our supply chains – and understanding where our raw materials come from. PETA’s simplistic campaign doesn’t help unravel the complex problem of buying ethically. I’s just a facile soundbite that will damage a diverse industry – one which has a good side as well as a bad one.

  3. Peta should in any case expose the companies that support and stimulate the production of this kind of wool and not suggest to reject wool in general.
    Wool is mainly an ecofriendly supply and a big source of employment for many people, at least in South America.

  4. Pingback: Can Vegans Wear Wool? |

  5. Bamboo…?
    Hemp…?
    Beautiful, soft and sustainable, and no risk of animal exploitation!! (is it really OK that a human says ‘some’ animals will be abused?) Manufacturing practices will continue to improve.

    • processing bamboo into textile requires a lots of chemicals and lots of water. Bamboo fabric is not so green. The only country that has the machinery to produce bamboo Textiles is China and they have no regulations. Therefor you have no clue what chemicals and how much water they use, How do they get rid of the polluted water residue of the textiles fabrications. Also there is a lot of different varieties of bamboo not all created equals, higher and higher popularity and demand for bamboo fibers as made them shave down to Zero entire Bamboo area ,home of multiples endangered species and home of lots of people too. People need to look further then the new trends. nothing is 100% clean and you need to make sure no matter what the fabric that it come from certified sustainable Farming/forestry/plantations. It also need to be Fair Trade for the people processing these Textiles, people are so focused on Animal cruelty they forget Human Adult and child are also abused and victim of disgusting conditions . And there is wool that come from fair well cared for Animals and lands that help families all around the world. that require only some mild soap cleaning to be processed, but you need to look where you buy and verify their certifications and where they come from.

  6. To clarify, the practice is called “Mulesing” not Muleing. It’s a harsh practice indeed. However, there are some counter-arguments that say the infections some sheep get, and suffer from when they are not mulesed is less humane than the practice itself.

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