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May 20, 2018  |  Login
Sustainable Options for Animal-Based Fabrics
By Lauren Mangion

Bamboo and organic cotton are the new heroes of the green fashion industry, and as often happens with trends, old stand-bys get left in the dust. But not for long. With bamboo overload, many designers are re-exploring more traditional animal-based materials that have undergone a green facelift.

Though animal-based fabrics are more resource intensive to grow than a material like bamboo, traditional fabrics like wool, alpaca fleece and silk have distinct environmental benefits when raised and manufactured ethically. Animal-based fabrics are durable, long lasting, renewable and biodegradable with strong cultural roots. Supporting organic and small-scale operations also has the potential to generate sustainable income for indigenous and small, multi-generational farms.

Organic Wool

Like organic foods, organic fabrics are not exposed to harmful chemicals during any stage of growing and processing. Certified organic wool is a more ethical choice than conventionally raised wool. Strict organic certification regulations bar practices like dipping sheep in insecticide baths, hormone injection, or overpopulating beyond the carrying capacity of the grazing land. Wool is a versatile fiber, is naturally antibacterial and stays warm while wet. There is something earthy and comforting about putting on a big wooly sweater, and the knowledge that the wool came from sheep living the good life may even enhance that feeling. Check out Stuart and Brown and I/O Bio for ethically chic wool designs.

Organic Alpaca Fleece

Organic alpaca fleece is a luxurious, silky fiber, sheared according to the animal's natural shedding cycle. The average alpaca can produce up to seven grams of fleece per shearing, and when fairly-traded, is a good source of income for indigenous Andean communities, the native land of the animal. The attractive natural coloring of the fleece also reduces the use of dyes.

Peace Silk

Conventional silk is harvested by boiling the cocoons, complete with caterpillar, so that the silk can be extracted as a single strand rolled onto reels. The harvesting of peace silk is considered a more ethical and humane process. The moth is allowed to emerge from the cocoon according to its natural life cycle. The silk is then degummed from the cocoon and spun. According to clothing designers that work with peace silk, this alternative process results in a softer and warmer material than conventional silk, with the insulating capabilities of down.


The fur industry has made an admirable effort to hop on the green bandwagon. Claims of being renewable and biodegradable, pictures of intrepid trappers stepping lightly on the land in rabbit-footed snowshoes are now part of rather slick marketing campaign. The jury is still out on this one. With traps that indiscriminately kill both the intended animal and endangered species that may happen along, and fur farms with huge petroleum inputs through feed and transportation, perhaps the most sustainable fur option is giving an old fur a new life.


Bad news and good news leather lovers. A much coveted fabric, the industry of leather is inextricably linked to the very polluting and inhumane factory farming industry. The more animals we demand for meat and skin, the more the animals are commoditized, contributing to land degradation, water and air pollution, and climate change.

When it comes to processing the animals's hide for leather, one of two methods are generally used. Vegetable tanning uses the barks of trees from which tannin can be extracted. The hides are then soaked in a concentrated tannin bath for several days. more


Organic Trade Association (2008) Organic Wool Fact Sheet [online] Available from: [accessed 6 April, 2009]

Aurora Silk (2007) Peace Silk [online] Available from: [accessed 7 April, 2009] (2008) Animal Fiber Clothing... Eco Clothing Guide [online] Available from: [accessed 9 April, 2009]

Global Action Network (2005) Fur Trade Fact Sheet [online] Available from: [accessed 6 April, 2009]

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