Materials wools

Published on April 11th, 2011 | by Becky Striepe

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Commercial Wool’s Dirty Secret

Wools dirty secret

While green fashionistas may look at wools as natural, eco-friendly fabrics, there’s a dark side to the wool industry that might change how you feel about knits.

While I was doing research for a vegan crafting mini-series over at Crafting a Green World, I was looking for information on common animal products and found some heart-wrenching information about the wool industry.

We’ve touched on the leather industry’s mistreatment of animals in the past, and you might assume that since we don’t kill sheep for wool that it’s a humane fiber. Unfortunately, in the case of most commercial wool, that’s far from the truth. Elizabeth Gordon at This Dish is Veg goes into great detail about the horrors of wool’s production. Here’s a (caution: very graphic) video depicting the meusling practice that Gordon describes in her article:

Commercial sheep also often live in factory farming conditions, including confinement cages:

Wool’s Cruelty: What You Can Do

Of course, the easiest answer is to just skip the wools all together and opt for organic cotton, hemp, soy silk, bamboo, and other eco-friendly, cruelty-free fibers.

If you’re looking to purchase a wool product, do your research! Where did that fiber come? How were the sheep treated? One really great way to find more humane wool is to buy handmade. Check Etsy for handmade wares made from humane wools. Since you’re buying from an individual, they’re more likely to be transparent about their materials than the big box store. Most Etsy sellers are happy to answer questions, so don’t be shy about sending a convo if you’re curious about their materials. You can also look for organic wools, as these sheep live slightly better lives than commercial sheep.

So, what do you guys think? Are commercial wools worth the cruelty? Where do animal rights fall in your eco-fashion priorities?

Rennett Stowe


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About the Author

Hi there! I'm Becky Striepe, a green crafter and vegan foodie living in Atlanta, Georgia with my husband and two cats. My mission is to make eco-friendly crafts and vegan food accessible to anyone who wants to give them a go. If you like my work, you can also find me on Twitter, Facebook, and .



  • http://www.imprematura.com Julianne Fuchs-Musgrave

    thank you for this! this is one I truly did not know about. while I use only eco-friendly or vintage textiles in my goods–I will now be even more aware of where my materials are coming from. Good job!!!

  • ryan laurie

    Although I appreciate your concern for animals, i feel in this case there is more to the story. That practice is not used evrywhere, so to put down a whole industry based on a single practice is a bit obtuse. The practice of tail docking alone would put some people off, however it is generally accepted that the sheep is better off after the docking because the likelyhood of a sheep being blown by flies is diminished. In a climate where flies are a big problem the skin is removed and thus kept from growing fleece at a young age. This further reduces the likelyhood of a fly strike and maggots growing in the vagina of the animal. Although it seems barbaric it is actually good care from responsible shepherds. It is our responsibilityin this case because our ancesters bred the animals to have the thick fleece we love and use. Sheep are no more wild than our pets at home being bred for centuries for our own purposes, and so we have a burden to care for them properly.

    • http://importantmedia.org/members/beckyanne/ Becky Striepe

      While docking is the most shocking, I cited several practices and linked to an article that goes into more detail about the link between commercial wool and cruelty.

      I understand that docking is to prevent flies from harming these animals, but if they were not bred to have excess skin and didn’t live in confined spaces, fly strike wouldn’t be such a ubiquitous problem.

      While I appreciate your point of view, I feel like I tried hard not to put down a whole industry here. Instead, I encouraged readers to know where their wool comes from, if they opt to buy wool, and even offered some resources to do just that.

    • http://treewool.wordpress.com Kristen

      The author obviously didn’t put down the entire industry since they promoted “humane” wool (which I personally disagree with).

      There is no humane way to mutilate an animal and to call it “proper care” is laughable, especially when the very crux of the problem stems from the animals are being bread and raised in warm climates they are not native too so that their fleece can be taken for human consumption.

  • ryan laurie

    Yes if sheep where never changed from their ancient forms and still had dual coats that shed out every year (still some do) flies would be LESS of a problem. However they have been changed and we have a responsibility to care for them properly. Those sheep in the video supporting the confined spaces haven’t been confined long at all. Look at the floor….the place is clean, i’ve taken care of my own small flock of 40 and don’t have nearly the need for a facility like that in the video, nor do I do mulesing because docking and castrating serve all my managment needs. That still doesn’t negate the importance of proper managment practices which vary by location and even season. I am very responsible and hold my flocks’ wellbeing as my most important goal because it’s proven that happy animals are healthy animals. To get back to my point, you do discount the entire industry (including small flock holdings who may not be practicing some of these things) when you suggest not buying wool at all, but instead buying organic plant fibers instead. The truth is that wool is different than these fibers in some very user friendly ways and can’t be replaced by, for example cotton. Wool is a valuable product that has been forgotten for years because of the synthetics that replaced much of the textile fiber industry. Now that synthetics are becoming very costly to make (because they are based on oil) the original natural fibers are enjoying some attention. (and don’t get me started on the ethics of oil) so…what is the consumer to do? The answer is simple, learn to produce, to be a human, and to take responsibility for themselves. This means find local fibers to use, and make your own product, because the only way to know if it’s ethical really is to do it yourself.

    • http://importantmedia.org/members/beckyanne/ Becky Striepe

      What you said about the way sheep are bred is interesting. I guess my point is we’re putting our desire for cheap wool above these animals’ rights. If breeding sheep in this way means having to rely on meusling, then maybe we shouldn’t be doing that? Is our responsibility to maintain the status quo, when that hurts animals, or should we take another look at the system?

      I think Kristen, the commenter above, really nails it when she says:

      “the very crux of the problem stems from the animals are being bread and raised in warm climates they are not native too so that their fleece can be taken for human consumption. “

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