But after undercover investigations into the industry have shown systemic cruelty and abuse of the animals involved, more conscious fashion lovers are looking for replacements.
One little-known fact about wool production is its environmental impact: sheep, just like cows, emit large quantities of methane gas, which has several times the global warming potential of CO2. The 2017 Pulse of Fashion Industry Report put wool in the fourth place on its list of the fashion materials that had the highest cradle-to-gate environmental impact per kg of material.
Vegan alternatives to wool
Refusing to wear wool doesn’t necessarily have to mean that you must resort to synthetic fibers. The plastic-pollution crisis is a threat to many wild animals in their natural habitats and swapping out one harmful material for another doesn’t do much for the planet as a whole.
But with the abundance of natural, eco-friendly vegan replacements for wool, there is no need to feel like we have to choose the lesser of two evils. Here are some replacements that are warm, comfortable and stylish – without the cruelty or environmental destruction.
Also known as Lyocell, this fabric is made from wood cellulose. Tencel, which can be used for tops, jumpsuits, trousers and dresses, is produced using a closed-loop technology, which means that the water and chemicals are re-used.
This natural, biodegradable material is often used in blended fabrics and doesn’t require any pesticides to grow, which makes it ideal for organic farming. It’s also very breathable and doesn’t trap heat like wool does, which can support the growth of bacteria.
3. Organic cotton
When it comes to eco-friendly cotton, organic farming can make all the difference. Choose organic and Fair Trade cotton to be sure that you’re getting the best product you can.
4. Soybean fiber
This material is free from petrochemicals and is completely biodegradable. It drapes like silk but has the comfort of cashmere, which makes it perfect for knitwear.
A material that needs no chemicals at all and offers resistance, durability and a gentle touch on sensitive skin.
If grown in the right conditions, bamboo can be very sustainable – but try to steer clear of rayon, a highly chemical-intensive bamboo-derived material.
An innovative material created by a group of university students in Colombia, Woocoa is a coconut and hemp fibre “wool” treated with enzymes from the oyster mushroom. It isn’t widely commercial yet, but it’s an exciting development for the future.
Developed by Australian material innovation company Nanolloose, this is a fabric created by using bacteria to ferment liquid coconut waste from the food industry into cellulose.
From cotton to coconuts, natural vegan materials have never been more readily available, versatile or stylish.
Today’s conscious consumers have a vast choice beyond animal-derived or petroleum-based fabrics, which is a sign of how far material innovation has come and the exciting developments that are still to come.