A Guide to Ethical Wool & Cashmere

Pulling The Wool Over Everything | Curiously Conscious

Pulling The Wool Over Everything | Curiously Conscious
Pulling The Wool Over Everything | Curiously Conscious

Pulling The Wool Over Everything | Curiously Conscious

Pulling The Wool Over Everything | Curiously Conscious

Wool. It’s possibly my favourite textile, in terms of comfort, warmth, and look. If treated right, wool can last a long time too. But is wool ethical?

There’s been much debate over wool. It’s obviously an animal byproduct, meaning many vegans avoid it like the plague. PETA produced an exposé (warning: graphic) in July this year, showing certain UK sheep farms mistreating their animals. It does raise the question over all wool: how do you know how the animals have been treated?

I’m of the opinion that ethical wool is only that sourced from farms who treat their sheep well, and that the farmers are paid fairly too. To be able to meet this criteria, fashion brands need to be transparent about where they source their wool, and state which farms they work with.

Don’t Pull The Wool Over Our Eyes

Right now, it’s still extremely hard to find out where each fashion brand gets their materials. It’s often seen as a “trade secret“, but that is changing – fair fashion brands are using their choice of ethical farmers, producers, and factories as a real selling point.

For wool, the added pressure comes around the sheep themselves. I stopped eating meat due to the wide-spread ill treatment of animals, and I also avoid first-hand leather because I don’t want to support the meat industry. I don’t have as much issue with wool, because shearing doesn’t normally harm or kill sheep, goats, or alpacas.

However, as Lucy Siegle reports, there’s only one spinning mill in the whole of the UK, meaning the production of UK-only wool is severely limited. Right now, we need to look further afield – and it’s the Americas and Australasia that produce 90% of the world’s wool.

My Wooly Outfit

This leads me onto how I stumbled across what is reportedly the world’s fairest cashmere. Naadam works with nomadic cashmere goat herders in Mongolia, paying them 50% more than the industry average, and then producing their luxury knits themselves so as to reduce the cost to consumer. Their factories also use 100% clean energy, and avoid harsh chemicals and bleaches.

I met with Naadam at a recent trade show, and really enjoyed hearing how they’re cleaning up the industry – taking it from faux to fair luxury. My cropped cashmere jumper is the centrepiece of this outfit, and my knitwear collection too!

I paired my show-stopping jumper with a second-hand wool skirt in a grey blue (from eBay, as per usual), my new pair of recycled semi-sheer tights from Swedish Stockings, and white gold vermeil circle earrings from AUrate New York.

Where To Find Ethical Wool & Cashmere in UK

One jumper probably isn’t enough to get through the British winter, so I’m hoping to add to my collection from one of these other ethical wool retailers…

Ally Bee: Pretty grey and cream yarns from British alpacas and sheep, plus cradle-to-cradle cashmere and merino

Crop: Colourful, cruelty-free, vegan knitwear from Kate Morris

Finisterre: Merino from non-mulesed sheep in New Zealand, guaranteed the freedom from thirst, hunger, cold, illness, and manhandling

Flock: British and Italian woollens with a complimentary repair service and recyclable packaging

Johnstons of Elgin: Superfine woollens sourced in Australia and made in Scotland

Myssyfarmi: Wooly hats made in Finland on a family farm, and knitted by a group of grannies

Naadam: Ethical cashmere sourced directly from Mongolian herders and made in clean energy factories

The North Face: Climate-conscious practices are employed by US sheep farmers for The North Face to offset emissions

Oubas: British and Irish lambswool garments, spun at their Scottish mill and made in their Cumbrian studio

Patagonia: Activewear using slow-washed merino sourced from the grasslands of Patagonia

People Tree: Sourced from New Zealand from animal-welfare farms and merino from non-museled animals, hand-knitted in Nepal

Stella McCartney: Re-engineered cashmere, as well as wool from hand-selected, high welfare sheep farms

Study 34: Responsibly produced high-quality alpaca knitwear made in Arequipa, Peru

Ted & Bessie: Ethical and sustainable knitwear made with fleece from their herd of UK-bred alpacas

Thought: Sustainable and ethically-sourced wool, as are all of Thought’s fabrics

And remember…

Wool is a natural product. That means it’s natural, renewable, and biodegradable. When you’re finished with your favourite pieces, make sure to pass them down, recycle them where possible, or compost garments made from 100% wool.

This post features gifted products and affiliate links.


  1. November 29, 2018 / 9:29 am

    Hi Besma! I really enjoy your blog and admire your ethical intentions.
    I also think people should know what really goes on behind the “gente, natural” image of wool. Wool is a bloody, cruel, gory industry. It systemically, routinely hurts and kills the millions of animals it uses every year. PETA have done 11 undercover investigations on four continents (including footage from the UK), totalling 99 shearing operations – so it’s far from being just a few bad apples – each one showing sheep being stomped on, kicked, punched, cut and left bleeding. Workers are typically paid by the volume of wool they produce, not by the hours they work, so they work really quickly, cutting sheep in the process and often sewing them back up with just a needle and thread and no painkillers. Thousands of lambs die in the UK each year before 8 weeks old due to starvation, exposure and neglect. And there is no “retirement” for sheep once they’re deemed no longer useful – they get sent to slaughter, just like animals used for meat and leather.

    It’s also crucial to remember that we breed sheep to produce much more wool than they would naturally need. No species in nature “needs shearing”, which is a common pro-wool narrative.

    Wool is also very far from being eco-friendly. There are around one billion sheep in Australia and New Zealand – two of the world’s top wool producers – and the methane gas emissions from the sheep are among the countries’ top greenhouse gas contributors. Sheep require a resource-intensive feed and their anti-parasite treatment, known as “sheep dip”, pollutes air and waterways. Deforestation, desertification and topsoil loss are just a few common results of wool production.

    There are lots of natural, animal-free materials that can be used instead of wool. Organic cotton, Tencel, hemp, soybean fibres and recycled fibres are just a few of them. We will soon also have “wool” made from coconut and hemp fibres! Innovative, sustainable and natural materials free from animal involvement truly are the future of fashion.

    • besma
      November 29, 2018 / 12:28 pm

      Hi Sascha, thanks for your comments on this. I think you’re right to an extent – overbreeding and mistreatment of animals are inexcusable, no matter what. However I also have issue with many of the alternatives you’ve mentioned – cotton takes gallons and gallons water to produce, tencel uses a lot of chemicals to treat, soya is causing deforestation, and recycled fibres also aren’t perfect as most need a % of virgin fibres to mix with.

      I think you’ve raised a good point in saying that we should consider all these options – not just wool – but at the same time, wool often gets a bad name from mass producers who treat sheep like products. Places like Finisterre rear their own sheep and to such a high standard of treatment that I have no issue shopping with them, and even openly speak about how wool gets a bad name but they’re operating differently. It’s still a natural textile, biodegradable, and lasts a long time when cared for.

      There’s no perfect answer, so it’s worth considering all options. This post was to highlight the brands and people who are doing wool right, as it were!


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