If you live in a cold climate you know how much we rely on wool when it comes to staying warm. Coats, hats, sweaters, scarves, gloves, socks, blankets…you name it, it’s made of wool. It is also a less obvious example of animal suffering in the fashion industry, and as a result, it is often overlooked or misunderstood.
People regularly stare at me wide-eyed when I tell them I don’t wear wool for ethical reasons. Say, what? “Sheep aren’t killed to make wool,” they say. “They are just sheared which is a natural process and doesn’t harm the sheep.” Sadly, neither of those statements is really true. Then, while still in a state of disbelief, they say, “If you don’t wear wool, what do you wear?”
Since we are smack dab on the middle of winter in the northern hemisphere, let’s take a look at each of these concerns:
1. Do sheep die for us to wear wool? The answer is yes. Not immediately, of course, (although some do as a result of the farming conditions) but once they become unproductive wool producers they are shipped off to slaughter – much younger than they would be if they died a natural death. So, yes, just like dairy cows, once they are past their prime they are killed. While we don’t have to slaughter them to obtain their wool, we are ultimately responsible for their death.
2. Does shearing harm the sheep? We have purposely bred domesticated sheep to have extra folds in their skin thereby creating more wool per sheep. As a result, unlike wild sheep who shed their wool naturally, if domesticated sheep are not shorn they can die from heat exhaustion and other issues related to too much wool being produced. That said, they are often sheared in the early spring before it is actually warm enough for them to be comfortable without their wool (which, of course, they grow to protect them from cold temperatures) and, as a result, some die from exposure.
When it comes to shearing, sure, some small farmers might do it delicately but all you have to do is take a look around the stores to realize that absolutely massive amounts of wool are being produced, and the bulk of it is not being done by small farmers. The wool industry is a huge agribusiness, and the sheep are their “product.” Time is of the essence, and if great care is not taken when shearing, it can be extremely stressful to the sheep and result in serious injuries.
3. What do you wear instead of wool? Of course we have to keep warm in the winter. That’s a given. The good news is that you do not have to rely on wool to help you stay warm and cozy. Yes, you might have to look around a bit more and definitely read labels, but there are other options available. Here are three pretty options:
- Kate Hill Ribbed Cardigan (blue cardigan pictured at the left above)
- Hot Kiss Jacket, Long Sleeve Belted Drop Waist Fleece (red jacket pictured at center above)
- Alicia Peacoat (emerald coat pictured at right above)
- Layering also helps and this fabulous top by Recover Designs makes any sweater cozier.
The truth is that the more we insist on cruelty-free fashions the more designers will produce them – whether from the goodness of their hearts or because there is money to be made. Either way the animals win and by default so do we.
The information here is only the tip of the iceberg. If this is new news to you, do some research on how wool is produced, look for alternatives and support the companies, like Vaute Couture, that are committed to cruelty-free, eco-friendly fashion. In the long run we all benefit!
Update (February 23, 2012): Did I mention that it’s important to read the label carefully? While at first glance the fabrics used (such as cotton, acrylic, nylon, rayon, viscose, etc.) might fit the bill, if you keep reading you might find a little wool, cashmere or mohair (which comes from goats who also suffer terribly from exposure and are commonly sent to slaughter once they outlive their usefulness) on the list. My apologies for missing the mohair listed in one of the examples above and thank you to the kind soul who pointed it out graciously to me.”