23 Comments

  1. Hey. I’ve seen multiple farmers work with sheep as landscape maintainers that are basically rented to places where it would be hard to use lawnmowers (close to rivers or on steep hills) or that have lots of acanthus (which is dangerous for humans but quite liked by sheep). Would you consider that as exploitation? The sheep are obviously bred to some extent to maintain the herd, but neither milked, nor butchered for meat.
    Great article, really enjoyed it.

  2. Thanks for writing. I recently made the switch from being a vegetarian, (since I was 10) to now being a vegan at 26. I am an outdoor professional who works in all types of inclement weather, so the idea of giving up wool is something that I have been struggling with recently. Thanks for writing this thoughtful article about the ethics of wool. It is definitely going to help me along my. new path of a vegan lifestyle.

  3. An interesting article. Thank you. I’ve been vegan 3 years and choose not to buy wool for clothing. But what brought me to this article is another aspect. I’m about to convert an old outbuilding in to a self-contained ‘bothy’ cabin and I’m looking for environmentally-friendly options for insulation. I live in the Scottish Highlands and am surrounded by sheep farms. Speaking to some shepherd friends I’ve discovered that the revenue from selling fleece doesn’t cover the cost of shearing. It’s basically being thrown away. Although I don’t agree with any form of animal exploitation, I’m still considering if using wool for insulation is still more environmentally-friendly than using typical construction products. It’s possible I can find recycled materials but it would have to be shipped from a long way away negating its eco credentials! Still some mulling to do…

    1. In case this is helpful: I built an eco-cabin (500sf full-time home back then) and after looking into wool for insulation I chose eco insulation made from recycled blue jeans. I installed it a tad thicker than required by code (can’t remember the details now, but went up a grade, even though it wasn’t necessary). It was completely amazing to work with, install, and enjoy. It really gave a solid sense of protection.

  4. Thank you for synthesizing so much information. My takeaway is that I am not going to buy wool products unless I have researched the particular source of the wool, and that it is indeed an ethical source. As I am too lazy to research such a thing, and that finding ethical wool is probably like searching for a needle in a haystack, I’m just not going to buy wool.

  5. Thanks for your great article, I’ve just began knitting again, but as a vegan I am conflicted about what to knit with. Acrylics seem to be so bad for the environment and yet using wool doesn’t sit right either. Perhaps as you say it is possible to find ethically produced wool if you take the time. I believe New Zealand has quite high animal welfare laws and muelsing is banned.
    I will do a bit more research and see if I can find a wool I am happy to knit with…it takes time and effort to knit garments so I am not too concerned about the cost. If you think of it in terms of the time spend its a pretty cheap hobby.

    1. Are you familiar with bamboo yarn? That may be a good alternative, being both vegan and high quality. There are some varieties, including mixed with cotton, that all have their own specific purpose.

    2. I would like to recommend to search for the Uruguayan wool yarn. The mulesing is completely banned here and the biggest factories in the country have European RWS certification. Both vegan and sustainable.

  6. Thnx for this article. It’s something I’ve been looking into and still am debating with myself whether or not I can accept wool (back) into my life. Still debating, but now with additional properly sourced info.
    Thing is, when it comes to food I have no issues, there are many great replacements for leather. High end clothing (and yes, I’m a bit of a dandy) becomes a lot more difficult. I’ve found good alternatives, great even, for all kinds of clothes but hats such as bowlers and top hats – not so much (I have not yet had the courage to look into white tie). The one dedicated vegan hat brand that I could find is great but has limited options and shipping is expensive (they’re in the US, I’m in Europe). But I have found cruelty free hats made with wool (though I am researching this again – based on the entire sheep life cycle which honestly I hadn’t given much thought before). And can you validate something that you don’t strictly need for your physical wellbeing (I can make an argument for my emotional wellbeing, but not everyone buys that… )?

    Sidenote: isn’t it odd, and frankly disturbing, that what we consider high-end and luxury goods are almost without exception made with leather, silk, fur, wool, etc… There are some brands popping up here and there that do it right but it’s still incredibly limited.

    Anyway, again thnx and I keep considering things for a while and will be jumping around your site for a bit (not sure why I haven’t found your site before – shame on me).

    1. It’s not easy, isn’t it? It feels like an excessive amount of research needs to be done just to buy products you need and want. We appreciate your consideration for each purchase and agree with the unfortunate standards of high-end fashion.
      Thanks for reading and taking the time to leave a comment.

      1. What always infuriates me is that I, and you, and luckily many others, go to extreme lengths to be knowledgeable about what we purchase and consume and often have to let go of easy conveniences, while most others just don’t give a toss and complain about you (me) making such a fuss of things and that doing harm is somehow the absurd standard – while also often being considerably cheaper. Or, even more ridiculously, that you can’t be both a ‘real man’ (whatever that means) and a vegan.

        I am not a religious person but I like to think of a hell where a subset of the population will be hunted in perpetuity by every single soul whose carcass they consumed and/or allowed to be abused. That keeps me going (there’s only so much virtue to be had – I do have my flaws).

  7. I had the same questions every time I visied my friends in Ireland, so I did some “field research” and went to see several farms. Generally, the animals are treated with love, almost the way people treat their puppies (one farm referred to them as his children, not even kidding). Most of the traditional wool clothing (the real stuff, not the ones from most souvenir shops) is handmade with care, from shearing to knitting, with natural dyes as well. As you say, the animals need to be sheared, and the way that this is done is primordial. It’s also an important traditional industry, essential for some areas cultural and literal survival (referring back to the slow food movement here, even though we arent talking about food, the concept is the same), so ethical considerations are to be taken into account, but I do think it is possible to get ethical wool, I know I have. I paid a pretty penny as it is also fair trade when done right, but it is worth it. Lambs will always be sheared, but if more people make the effort to buy ethical, be it wool or dairy or vegetables or coffee and the list goes on, I think it will make a world of difference in all those industries.
    Cheers!!

    1. Hi Jess, thanks for sharing your experiences with us! There’s no doubt, case studies on both sides of the argument. I suppose the difficulty is tracing the origins of how the wool is produced, which remains the challenge for consumers.

      1. for sure. That is also why I only buy wool from one or 2 places I have seen personally.
        I think when possible, it is our responsibility to expect traceability for what we purchase, consumables and other(and no only plant based alternatives-many make the mistake of thinking that plant-based always equals fair trade and cruelty free). We cant always personally make sure of the sources but we can certainly try, and I think when companies see people caring, they will be more likely to be held accountable. supporting local businesses and production helps very much with accountability, IMHO.
        Be well, and thank you for this great post!

  8. Thank you for the objective post. I found it hard to come by credible sources. Peta and the likes are often not very nuanced, whereas wool-farmers are seldom completely transparent.

    I started reading up on the subject after having purchased a wool sweater. The wool used to produce the sweater is mulesing-free, according to the clothing company’s website, but as is apparent from your article, there is much more to consider when purchasing a wool product. Unfortunately, that’s all the information I’m given as a consumer. Bottom-line is, in my opinion, that producing wool ethically simply isn’t consistent with the inherent goal of the market of maximizing profits.

    1. Sorry Simion, I’m just catching up on comments. Your shopping experience perhaps captures the punchline of this article. The inability to trace how wool is produced for each product remains incredibly challenging, which adds to the confusion. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us!

  9. Thanks for the post, so detailed and objective! I’m not vegan, but trying to limit my use of animal products as much as possible. Wool is a very difficult one… We live in Norway, and I struggle to find any alternative to wool baselayers for outdoor activities. Use organic cotton in everyday life, but it gets wet and cold during physical exercises. Synthetic fibers don’t work that well, and there are so many environmental concerns with them (microplastic pollution, etc). For now I’m only buying wool second-hand, and limit the amount of wool clothing to the minimum.
    But I actually hope for the best here. I grew up in Siberia (6 month of winter, -20-30 degrees celcius), and only about 20 years ago everyone wore fur (sheepskin mostly), because there were no alternatives. Then great technical clothing for extreme cold came to the market, and now very few people continue to wear fur. So sad that someone still does it, I would say… but at least we see the trend. Maybe something similar will happen with wool, and the consumption of it will be greatly reduced.

    1. You’re welcome, Evgeniia! I’m glad you found the post interesting 🙂
      I have no experience living in such climates, but I can only imagine how tough it would be to appropriate clothing without using wool or synthetics.
      I’m hopeful excessive levels of wool consumption trends down. We’ll see.
      Thanks for sharing your experience with us!

  10. Hi Michael!
    I really appreciate the open-minded approach you take when writing your articles. On the one hand, I love wool because it’s natural, biodegradable, warm and comfortable… but on the other hand, I try to avoid buying new wool because 1) as you say it’s hard to know how the sheep were treated and 2) well, in general, I don’t like buying new things if I can find them second hand, because sustainability!
    My family has an Angora goat as a pet and we shear, spin and knit his mohair. We shear him carefully by hand using a pair of scissors (extremely time consuming but we don’t have electric shears!). His hair grows very quickly and the farm we got him from told us to shear him twice a year (September/October and March/April), so that’s what we do. He doesn’t seem to get too cold over the winter because by the time the coldest weather comes around his hair has grown back somewhat, and he also has a Nubian goat friend to cuddle with.

    I’ve also had some glimpses into the more commercial side of the wool industry on my uncle’s farm which he leases to sheep farmers. The sheep are handled extremely roughly, with the being given excuse that they are ‘dumb’ or ‘stupid’ and so they won’t do what you want them to unless you force them. Once, one of the ewes was throwing herself against the fence (I guess she was stressed, but I don’t remember whether it was because it was shearing time or because her lamb was being taken away, or just because the pen was cramped), and broke her neck. She had to be put down- it was done with a knife and definitely no anaesthetic, but at least I think my uncle was experienced enough to make it as quick as possible. In any case, a pretty traumatic experience and an example of what we could be supporting when we buy wool. 🙁

    1. Hi, thank you so much, Gloria.
      Wow, your dual experience says it all! Both sides of the spectrum just within your family. It really sheds light on the complexities of wool, and I like your approach of opting to buy second-hand. Thanks for sharing with us.

  11. Thanks for the post Michael. I had no idea the wool industry was so ethically complex. To be safe I wouldn’t buy wool unless I knew what farm it came from. I have seen yarn shops that sell wool you can spin into yarn that comes with a picture, name, and shear date of the sheep it came from.
    Also, thanks for keeping this post objective. It really lends credibility to veganism, and helps make you think about the choices you make with clothing.

    1. Thanks, Dom! Writing this post honestly changed my perspective on wool. I was way more subjective, but I quickly discovered there was so much more to the wool industry. It’s reassuring to know yarn shops like that exist. Hopefully, we’ll start to get my transparency about the whole lifecycle flocks across different farms as it relates to each purchase.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.