Instead of wool, you can wear some of the many natural vegan fabrics that don’t involve punching and stomping on sheep. Recently, we’ve seen a surge of high-performing vegan fabrics that are the perfect combination of soft and sustainable.More and more clothing brands are opting for these materials that don’t support the cruelty of the wool industry.

In recent years, designers and clothing manufacturers have partnered with biotech to begin offering more animal-free alternatives: synthetic spider silk, artificial duck and goose down, high-tech faux fur, and vegan leather derived from everything from pineapples to winemaking waste. But there is currently no alternative wool on the market.Wool is one of the oldest textiles in human history.Wool clothing dates back to 10,000 years ago and its use spanned across the ancient world—from Ancient Peru to Egypt to Siberia. Wool is a natural animal fiber, primarily the fleece of sheep, but we can also get wool from many other animals: goats (such as cashmere and mohair), alpacas, rabbits (Angora wool), and even camels.

Traditionally, wool is a sustainable fibre in the sense that sheep are part of the natural carbon cycle, consuming the organic carbon stored in plants and converting it to wool. Fifty per cent of the weight of wool is pure organic carbon.

 While most fabrics that make up the world of sustainable fashion deserve a bit of scrutiny, wool not only calls into question its impact on the environment and labourers, but its impact on wool-producing animals. It’s durable, warm yet breathable, easy to dye, and absorbs water without feeling clammy. But the process of obtaining the wool—factory farming and shearing sheep—can be inhumane. Animal rights organisation PETA has released videos of sheep shearers kicking, cutting, and throwing sheep as they attempt to shear as much wool as quickly as possible.

Then an idea came: Can we make wool without using sheep at all?

Yes. Textile scientists have come up with two brilliant ideas to make vegan wool.

The first one is that’s what a group of Colombian students have done, devising a wool alternative made from hemp and coconut fibers treated with mushroom enzymes. Calling their product Woocoa, they hope it might make farming sheep for wool unnecessary. It isn’t widely commercial yet, but it’s an exciting development for the future. It is very interesting how hemp, coconut, and mushrooms wind up becoming wool. The students found that there are 114 different vegetable fibers that are used in artisanal crafts. Coconut fiber is an agricultural waste that could economically benefit communities on the Caribbean coast of Colombia, where hemp could be grown.

10As a clothing material, wool has a lot going for it. It’s durable, warm yet breathable, easy to dye, and absorbs water without feeling clammy. But the process of obtaining the wool—factory farming and shearing sheep—can be inhumane. Animal rights organisation PETA has released videos of sheep shearers kicking, cutting, and throwing sheep as they attempt to shear as much wool as quickly as possible. The students, from the Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá, recently won a PETA-sponsored contest for the best “vegan wool,” or wool-like material made from non-animal fibers. So how did the mushrooms wind

But while coconut fiber and hemp met the requirements for sustainability, they did not feel at all like wool. So the team began experimenting with making the fibres softer. Consulting professors from the biology, chemical engineering, and design departments of their university, they found they could use mushroom enzymes to degrade lignin, the organic polymers that make plant cells hard and rough. This made the coconut fiber and hemp much softer and more wool-like. It also removed their natural colours by scouring and making the material suitable for dyeing.

While the team still has a ways to go before the material has the exact properties they desire and the scalability for commercial production, they think their proof of concept is an exciting start. The product certainly resembles wool and can be stretched and woven in similar ways.

It’s an eco-friendly solution that generates job opportunities in Colombia and can help mitigate the environmental impact of the textile industry. But most importantly, we will have a future where no sheep are harmed to make a sweater anymore.

Another approach was to create vegan wool with Kerasynth, a vegan “skin” with wool-producing follicles developed by the Maryland Institute College of Art.The researchers behind it hope their process can one day grow hair from many different animals, not just sheep, as well as produce coloured wool in an array of fantastical tones. They have named it “Werewool.” From New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology, it is a faux wool fibre that students created by isolating and expressing a protein from their own DNA—no animals (except humans) needed.

An entrepreneur based in a village named Kuilapalayam in Tamil Nadu (near Auroville) has found a unique solution. The 34-year-old is the founder of “Faborg,” a company that makes vegan wool derived from Calotropis, a wild flowering shrub that is found in dryland areas and is commonly known as milkweed. Faborg has launched an alternative to wool fabrics called “Weganool.”

Then there’s Nullarbor, a vegan wool made from coconut by-products. Other environmentally sound wool replacements include Tencel, organic cotton, bamboo, hemp, soyabean fabric, linen, and recycled fibres.

Back home in India, the call for creating a sustainable, vegan wool alternative that’s not only warm and luxurious, but cruelty-free and eco-friendly too, has been answered by South Indian fabric purveyor Faborg.

Weganool, meaning Vegan plus wool, uses a hollow cellulose fibre grown in abundance in arid areas of South India, without the need for fertilisers or pesticides. Although Weganool has the properties of traditional wool, the fabric is made entirely from plant sources — 30 percent calotropis and 70 percent organic cotton.

In Hindu culture, calotropis (also known as Bowstring Hemp) flowers are offered to Shiva and Ganesha. In Ayurveda, it has been used for its medicinal properties. In farming, it has been used as an effective bio-compost and insecticide. In clothing, calotropis has been used since ancient times to make clothes for children and the nobility. Calotropis Gigantea & Calotropis Procera grow abundantly all over India. Calotropis does not need water, attention, pesticides, or replanting. It is a pioneer plant that revives biodiversity and the ecosystem and enables the forest canopy to grow back. It grows back in 6 months after harvesting, giving a yield 2 times per year. It is an age-old fertilizer, fungicide, and pest-repellent that farmers have been using for ages.

It provides two unique hollow cellulose fibres that have wool-like characteristics – the pod fibre and the stem fibre. The unique quality of Calotropis fibre lies in its natural hollow cellulose structure, which is similar to hollow protein fibres like the finest cashmere.

The pod fibres are extremely soft and light in weight. Since these fibres are hollow, they behave like tiny air balloons and are able to carry the heavy seeds far away from the plant. Because of their softness and natural shine, fabrics made from these fibres have a very luxurious feel and are often compared with cashmere.

The stem fibres are immensely strong and almost impossible to break with bare hands. The function of stem fibres is to carry and distribute acidic sap to the pods and leaves. The milky sap is widely used in Ayurveda to cure numerous diseases, but can be toxic in large quantities.

Separating the fibers from the plant takes a lot of time and includes many steps. Once the plant is harvested, the stem is separated from the plant. The fibrous bit inside the stem is extracted and boiled in water. After this, it is sun-bleached and then turned into yarn. Weganool comes from a wild plant called Calotropis, which is widely grown in India. Calotropis fibers have a more similar character and hollow structure to high-quality wool than any other plant fiber.Weganool sounds a lot like vegan wool – a sustainable plant-based wool alternative. Furthermore, “nool” in Tamil means both a book and a thread. Weganool is like a guidebook for sustainable textile manufacturing.

Carefully extracted Calotropis fibres are mixed with 70% of certified organic rain-fed cotton and spun into delicate Weganool yarn by Faborg. The operations for Faborg are carried out at a 2000 sq. ft. unit in Pondicherry. Currently, they have about five people working here while weaving is carried out by weaver clusters in Karur, Tirupur, and other places. At the unit in Pondicherry, the fibre is extracted, and the dyeing of the yarn also takes place in Tirupur at the Natural Dye House. Shankar points out that they only use natural dyes derived from plants like Kaddukai, which are used for yellow dyes, while pomegranates are used for red dyes.

Faborg manufactures about 150 kg of yarn per month, which is being used by brands and sustainable design brands like Infantium Victoria, a German fashion label that makes children’s clothing. Moreover, Shankar mentions that they have gotten inquiries from designer labels like Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and Alexander McQueen. Most of these brands have liked the fabric’s cashmere-like texture, which is perfect for making woolens.

The first garments made from this plant-based wool alternative include a hoodie, a baby jacket, and a cape gown. The yarns are suitable for a wide variety of end products. There are many end-products that can be created with Weganool, such as scarves, shirts, jackets, sweaters, etc. The brand, Infantium Victoria, has been using Weganool in their collection for over a year now.

Production of this vegan fabric is mostly done by hand, and it empowers women in rural communities too dry to engage in traditional agriculture. Once the necessary fibres are extracted, the concentrated and fermented leftovers from the plant are mixed with different Ayurvedic herbs and made into something called Arka, which is a highly efficient bio-nutrient and insect repellent.

 Benefits of Vegan Wool Fibres ;

The following are the benefits

  1. When compared to 100% cotton yarn, the production of 1 kg of Vegan Wool yarn saves 9000 litres of clean drinking water.
  2. Cultivating the Vegan Wool plant can convert dry, unusable terrain into profitable land for farmers.
  3. Vegan wool cellulose fibre fabrics do not shrink with each wash and are generally easier to maintain than protein-based wool fabrics.
  4. Vegan Wool fabrics are environmentally friendly at every stage of their life cycle, from production and processing to final disposal.

5.Scientific research confirmed that these fabrics have antimicrobial properties against most common skin diseases created by staph bacteria and do not create an itchy feeling.

6.It is cruelty-free.

Article By:

Dr.N.N. MAHAPATRA

Business Head (Dyes)
SHREE PUSHKAR CHEMICALS & FERTILISERS LTD.