Does cruelty-free wool exist?

Have you ever wondered why vegans refuse to wear wool? After all, we don’t kill sheep for that, right? In an ideal world, cruelty-free wool would be the norm. We would have pet sheep that we shear every summer to protect them from the heat. How picturesque! Unfortunately, the reality is much darker.

Repeat after me: wool is not cruelty-free.

Sheep didn’t always need to be sheared. Actually, wild sheep and primitive sheep breeds shed by themselves. Domestic sheep like merino sheep, on the other hand, were bred for thousands of years for maximum wool production thanks to extra skins folds.

They don’t shed naturally and this leads to many issues.

First of all, the excess of wool puts the sheep at risk of heat exhaustion. Then, the extra skin folds render the shearing process difficult and the animals often end up with cut wounds, especially in industrial farms where they want high yields. Which leads me to mulesing. Those extra skin folds can collect moisture, urine and feces, hence easily become infected and/or attract maggots. In order to avoid that, farmers cut off large chucks of flesh from the sheeps’ hinds… without anesthesia. While more and more brands try to walk away from this practice, it still remains a problem. Last but not least, because it is animal farming, the wool industry has a high carbon footprint, contributes to deforestation, land degradation and water pollution.

Not many alternatives.

Wool is hard to replace though. It’s a natural fiber, it’s warm and stays warm when damp. It’s antibacterial. It holds less static electricity than synthetic yarns. While I’m sure there will be a lot of eco-friendly innovations coming our way in the close future, I wanted to see if there was even such a thing as cruelty-free wool.

There is ONE cruelty-free brand

Today, wool either comes from wool farms or meat farms. Either way, we kill the sheep at the end. One day though, I carpooled with a young man who was carrying wool from his mother’s pet alpacas to a small wool mill. That’s when I started to wonder: what about pet and rescue sheep? They need to be sheared!

A few google searches later, I came across a British brand called Izzy Lane. They sell beautiful locally-made wool clothes and accessories and they seem to be the only truly curelty-free wool brand out there. Isobel, who created the brand, rescued over 600 sheep, some of which were on their way to the slaughterhouse. You can read the story here. The brand helps support the herd and that feels like a win-win situation. I ordered the Grimsby-Crew sweater and my favourite thing about it is that the wool is in its natural color.

Now I know that there is also alpaca wool. It can be sustainable and cruelty-free. I mean, I saw it with my own eyes. But keep in mind that whenever mass production is involved, things will go bad. I hate to use peta as a reference, but one of their investigations revealed horrific abuse at the World’s biggest alpaca farm in Peru. So while completely ditching wool might be difficult, especially when living in colder climates, the best approach may be to be mindful about each purchase, do research and choose vintage or recycled wool when possible.