The Brightonian’s guide to an animal-friendly autumn wardrobe

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Summer is behind us, and soon we’ll be reaching for our seasonal knits to keep us warm in the sea breeze – but next time we’re browsing the boutiques in the Lanes for autumn fashion, let’s leave wool, cashmere, and other animal-derived fibres on the shelf. By Sascha Camilli

Cosy or Cruel?

The “cosy” world of winter woollies has a dark side. A new PETA Asia investigation into the cashmere trade in Mongolia has revealed how goats scream in terror when workers pin them down by the legs and horns and pull their hair out with sharp metal combs. The process – which can last as long as an hour – left some of the animals with bloody wounds, and an investigator even found cashmere with the skin still attached. A herder cut kid goats’ scrotums open with a knife and pulled out their testicles without any pain relief. When the goats’ cashmere production drops, they are sent to slaughterhouses, where investigators documented that workers hit the goats on the head with a hammer then slit their throats. Some animals continued to move for as long as four minutes while they bled out.

Cashmere isn’t the only villain masquerading as warm and fuzzy. PETA entities have conducted 15 undercover investigations showing that the abuse of sheep and their lambs in the wool industry is just as awful. The investigations exposed over 100 wool-producing facilities around the world, including in the UK, capturing graphic footage so abhorrent that shearers in Australia and Scotland pleaded guilty to charges of cruelty to animals. Investigators saw sheep being hit, kicked, stamped on, cut during shearing, and left bleeding. These are not a few bad apples – this is standard industry practice. And it’s done purely for profit: sheep only “need” shearing because humans have bred them to grow an abnormally heavy coat, and cashmere goats would naturally shed their hair if it wasn’t violently stolen from them.

A Danger to the Environment

If we care about the environment (and in this day and age, we really should), then we definitely ought to stay away from animal-derived knits. It’s ironic that the wool industry presents itself as an eco-friendly antidote to “fast fashion” when every single wool garment drives an industry that’s spewing out pollutants. Sheep emit large amounts of methane – a powerful greenhouse gas with many times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide. Australia and New Zealand, two of the biggest wool producers in the world, report that the large numbers of sheep used in the industry are among the top methane contributors in those territories. Land is cleared and trees have to be cut down to make room for the grazing animals whose wool will end up in our wardrobes.

Cashmere presents another serious environmental threat. Because goats eat entire plants all the way down to the roots, their grazing prevents regrowth and leads to desertification. Cashmere goats are often farmed in areas that are already largely desertified, such as Mongolia – where there are 3.3 million people and 27 million cashmere goats. As a result of the fashion industry’s demand for cashmere, once-lush landscapes have been left barren and dusty. Desertification has already claimed 80% of Mongolia’s grassland and threatens the entire country.

The Ethical Options

Brighton already has an excellent reputation for fine ethical fashion. Whether we are visiting upscale sustainable style boutiques or browsing one of the city’s many charity shops, we can choose from a variety of eco-conscious, natural materials such as bamboo, organic cotton, hemp, recycled fibres, sustainably made viscose, and Tencel. Recent reports have shown that producing wool uses 367 (!) times more land than cotton production, and vegan materials are also free from cashmere’s alarming ties to desertification. Hemp is one of the most sustainable materials in fashion. It grows without the use of chemical pesticides and fertilisers, which makes it ideal for organic farming. It’s also extremely versatile and perfect for blended knitwear. Tencel – made from wood-pulp cellulose – is produced in a closed-loop process, meaning that resources such as water and chemicals are reused to minimise waste. Among other innovative vegan materials, we can find banana fibre wool and soybean cashmere, which drapes elegantly, can be fully biodegradable, and is free from any petrochemicals.

There is simply no need (or excuse) to keep wearing the skin, wool, and hair of tormented sheep and goats. So let’s make this the season we wear our hearts on our sleeves and leave wool and cashmere where they belong – on the animals who were born with them.

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Sascha Camilli is senior PR coordinator at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and author of Vegan Style: Your Plant-Based Guide to Fashion, Beauty, Home and Travel.

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