A Vegan Guide to Animal Fibers
As a vegan I often get asked why I don’t wear or share certain materials like down, leather, wool, and silk. And it's a great question!
The truths behind animal textiles can often be uncomfortable and even upsetting, and there are plenty of resources out there if you want to see something that can't be unseen, so instead I would like to offer some gentle reasons and friendly alternatives for those interested in creating a more compassionate closet.
Silk comes from the silkworm, the most common being Bombyx mori, which start out as a darling little pupae then spins a protective cocoon around itself to transform into a chrysalis before ultimately emerging as a lovely moth (emotionally I feel like I’ve done this process a time or two).
In traditional silk harvesting the silkworm is killed in the chrysalis stage, usually boiled in water so that the cocoon can be preserved to produce the most usable silk.
Did you know: It takes over 2,500 silkworms to produce one yard of silk, meaning thousands of silkworms are killed just to make one dress or top (yikes!).
Many designers and vegans are now advocating for peace silk, a broad term used to categorize silk that has been harvested without causing harm to the silk worm. The silkworms are allowed to live once they emerge from their cocoon, however, it’s not quite as peaceful as it may sound. After so many years of selective breeding and domestication, silkworms are blind, unable to fly, and do not have the ability or instinct to care for themselves or avoid predators. They have become entirely reliant on humans for survival and sadly most will starve to death shortly after leaving their cocoon.
And not to name drop, but even Gandhi was critical of silk production as going against his belief in ahimsa, or "not to injure."
If you love the feel of silk but don’t love where it comes from, there are some great alternatives.
Viscose is a semi-synthetic textile made from natural fibers (often bamboo, eucalyptus, or various wood pulps) which go through a chemical treatment to create a soft, drapey, dare I say silky fabric. And while a little harder to find, Bolt Threads has created an innovative silk alternative called Microsilk made from yeast, sugar, and water (which, on an unrelated note, I believe are the same ingredients you could use to make moonshine).
FEATHERS & DOWN
Down is the soft layer of feathers closest to a bird's skin, known for its insulating qualities and frequently used in fashion and home goods. While I definitely don't think ducks and geese want you to be cold, they probably also wouldn't choose to be plucked alive (as often happens - I’ll spare you the photos) or to become a byproduct of the notoriously cruel fois gras and meat industries.
Did you know: It takes approximately 75 birds to provide enough down for an average duvet
Most down - about 80% - comes from China where there are currently no nationwide laws that explicitly prohibit the mistreatment of animals (and even in countries with laws in place - there’s just really not a kind way to remove feathers from a bird).
Feather & Down Alternatives
Fortunately there's a better option: innovative vegan down can provide the same warmth without the suffering, so keep your eyes out for faux and manmade down which is luckily very easy to find.
Leather is not only a major environmental hazard, but it also might not be coming from the animal you think it is. Most of the world's leather comes from China, where due to lower production costs dogs are often killed in really sad ways (that I won't show you!) to be used for small leather goods. Dog leather is visually indistinguishable from cow leather, so there is no way for consumers to know which animal they are buying - and consumers deserve to know what they are buying!
Even if you are buying the cow leather you think you are, it is ranked as the textile with the highest environmental impact - plus, there’s really no nice way to take the skin off someone.
Luckily it’s very easy to avoid leather with so many vegan options that look and feel like the real thing, made from everything from plastics to pineapples.
There are a lot of very upsetting undercover videos about where wool comes from - and you can find those elsewhere. Wool, mohair, pashmina, shahtoosh, cashmere, and other seemingly harmless animal hairs are taken from live animals, and as with all mass industrialized animal practices, animal welfare is regularly overlooked in the name of speed and quantity. Animals can suffer anything from nicks to accidental amputations during shearings and many will die from exposure (to both heat and cold) and poor nutrition before ultimately being killed for meat.
If that doesn't feel good to you - not to mention the itch - there are of plenty of warm wool-free alternatives made from natural fibers like hemp and cotton, and innovative options like Tencel. Look for vegan fleeces, shearlings, and knits for cozy options.
Fur has a very luxurious and fashionable reputation, but fur farming is… not pleasant to learn about, so I’m going to spare you the graphic details and photos.
Fur comes from the skin and hair of animals like mink, rabbits, foxes, chinchillas, raccoons, beavers and lynxes. And, sometimes even cats and dogs which are sometimes intentionally mislabeled as other animals.
While it is often labeled as a “natural” textile, fur - like leather - must be treated with chemicals like formaldehyde to prevent from biodegrading, and many of the chemicals are dangerous not only to our own health but also to our environment.
Faux fur is definitely on the rise with brands at every price point, but you can always also choose my favorite fur alternative: none.