What Are You Wearing? Ep. 3: Animal Hair Fibers

By Kat Holleran

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Photo courtesy of Fandom

What’s the deal with wool??

Hello, my sustainable friends. Today we’re going to learn about what goes into the production of wool, cashmere, and other animal-y fabrics! First, some basic terminology: wool is from sheep, silk is from silk worms, cashmere is from goats, and alpaca is from… alpacas. Here is the big question: what does this mean for the animals, the environment, and for us?

There is, and will probably always be, the timeless debate on animal cruelty among vegans, some vegetarians, animal sympathizers, and those who either don’t care or don’t know about the industry.* A common pro-“protein-fabrics” argument is that the animals don’t have to be killed in order to shear off their wool, and therefore aren’t hurt throughout the process. While it’s true that sheep, goats, and alpacas don’t need to be killed or hurt, these animals are kept in horrible conditions—similar to that of a factory farm. More than this, shearers are often working quickly and will wound the sheep or goats with their sharp tools. However, due to the modern over-breeding of sheep by humans, they produce too much wool and actually do need to be shorn (whereas wild sheep grow just the right amount of wool) or else they could die of heat exhaustion. 

Silk is different from the other fabrics because, instead of being woven from animal’s wool, it’s woven from the fine fibers that silkworms (moth larvae) make their cocoons with. The environmental impacts of this process are low, unlike with wool production, as sheep and goats create lots of methane by burping and farting (teehee). You can watch a cool video about silk production by Vox here.

As with most anything, wools and silk come with some interesting ethical and environmental concerns. When purchasing wool, you are buying into an industry that often mistreats animals and produces carbon dioxide and methane (two harmful greenhouse gasses) during production. When purchasing silk, you’re enabling the death of millions of silkworms. But when, instead of wool or silk, you buy polyester or another synthetic fabric, you are purchasing a fabric made of petroleum, which has lasting environmental impacts as well.

Basically, there is a lot to think about when you shop: where does it come from, how was it made, and who was hurt in the process (whether that be the planet or the animals involved). So add this stuff to your knowledge tool belt, kids, and bring it out at the mall when ya need it!

*Disclaimer: I do not believe either party is inherently right or wrong.

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