What About Wool?

What About Wool?
Vaute Couture's "Audrey" coat (I have it in black)

Vaute Couture’s “Audrey” coat
(I have it in black)

I first wrote about wool and alternatives in 2009, and it’s a subject that inevitably comes up each year when Jack Frost starts showing up again at everyone’s doorstep. This year, when a CFF Facebook friend asked me about wool coats, I thought it might be a good time to revisit the old blog post and provide some updates.

When I first looked into wool about five years ago, I admit I was a bit daunted. Most suggestions I found had to do with staying away from big commercial companies and buying products from people who have their own sheep. I didn’t know anyone who owned her own sheep, so I skipped to the next suggested step I could find, which had more to do with what not to buy.

Here’s some information about the wool industry along with a few of my favorite cruelty-free alternatives:

Merino Wool

Merino wool comes from Merino sheep. Unfortunately, the myriad folds in their skin become a festering ground for moisture and flystrike disease. Consequently, Merino sheep can be subjected to a practice called mulesing, which is a lot more painful than ordinary shearing. Think Shylock in Merchant of Venice. For those of you who need to brush up on your Shakespeare, think pound of flesh. Yes. It’s a nasty business. Chunks of flesh getting hacked off. Largely, it’s Australia that practices mulesing; therefore, avoiding any purchases of Merino wool coming from Australia is a good first step. It’s a step companies are making as well as individual consumers: H & M, Perry Ellis, Hugo Boss, and Adidas are just some of the big names that have pledged to refrain from buying Australia’s Merino wool. Celebs like Pink and Joaquin Phoenix also have lent their voices to this cause.

Cashmere

Admittedly, I’ve always loved cashmere sweaters… on me or anyone else. So the question is whether or not the cashmere goats fare any better than our Merino friends. There’s no mulesing involved, so that’s a plus. And shearing, similar to shaving, doesn’t seem so bad… does it? Well, there is the question of what happens to the goats who don’t quite make the grade — which is over half of them, by the way — and to the goats when they get old.  Furthermore, there’s the issue of how the young and aesthetically-pleasing goats are treated while they’re generating wool for us. In such a poorly-regulated industry, it’s impossible to guarantee that the goats are being treated humanely — even the ones deemed productive and worthy of care.

Vegan Alternatives & Vintage

As someone who embraces a fully vegan lifestyle, I do my best to avoid using anything — be it on my plate or on my back — that involves the use of animals. I haven’t gone to the extreme of eliminating all my sweaters from the closet and starting a new winter wardrobe from scratch, but I’m committed to seeking out alternatives for any future purchases.

The good news is that, over recent years, so many cruelty-free fabrics have become available, and many top fashion designers, like Stella McCartney, are proving that dressing animal-friendly does not have to cramp your style. For example, my winter coat collection is now cruelty-free, thanks to the vegan Vaute Couture line. And cruelty-free fashion is not just for the ladies: guys should check out Brave GentleMan for custom suiting.

Also, because of the increased demand for eco-friendly products, an array of textiles are now available that didn’t exist a decade ago; and many of them (though not all) are animal- as well as environmentally friendly, such as Tencil and Polartec. This year under the Christmas tree, my husband got a matching set of Polartec gloves, hat, and scarf from Lands End. Other animal-friendly fabrics to look for are those derived from hemp, organic cotton, soy, corn, and — my favorite — bamboo. Bamboo yarn is so soft, I’m going to go ahead and call it “the new cashmere.”

Are these alternative-wool products pricey? They can be. But the Diane von Furstenberg cashmere dress I had hanging in my closet wasn’t exactly a bargain buy either. For those on a tighter budget, check out Alternative Outfitters. In addition, I know several of my friends rely on buying from vintage and second-hand shops, which might appeal to some of you as a feasible and fun option. You’re still wearing wool, but you’ll be doing your part to eliminate the demand for new production… and that’s a very good thing.

A Note About Silk

While we’re on the subject of luxury fabrics, let me say something about silk. Many people know that silk comes from the cocoon-threads spun by silkworms (actually closer to caterpillars than worms). However, what many may not know is that these cocoons are boiled while the silkworms are still in them! We all love the feel of silky things on the body; but once I found out the details about silk production, I immediately realized there’s absolutely nothing sexy about silk. For lingerie that’s sexy and cruelty-free, check out Urban Fox.

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