Guest article by Hannah Boyle.
Table of Contents
Why Hemp is the Perfect Vegan Wool Alternative
In a world where we are all becoming more aware of our impact on the environment and how our daily decisions and purchases affect not only our planet, but also all of the animals living on it, veganism is on the rise.
When people think of veganism, they usually think of the food that we eat: meat and dairy. Not so often do they think about all of the other aspects that affect animals and their rights. Today I want to talk about vegan clothing.
I will tell you a little bit about my story and why I decided that I wanted to start making a positive change by helping others recognize the need to move away from non-vegan clothing.
In 2018, I left my 9 to 5 corporate job to take a career break and travel the world with my husband. Our goal was to explore less-visited places and to do a long trip travelling overland as much as possible. We traveled over 25,000 kilometers by bus, minivan, car, train, and boat; across Europe, Africa, and Asia.
Travel for vegans can be difficult enough finding food and drinks, but there is also the difficulty in finding good vegan and sustainable travel clothes. There are some travel-specific clothing brands, but they generally use wool or synthetics (that are bad for the environment). So I began to research this further.
Why Do People Wear Wool?
Wool is often used in clothes marketed for travel because it offers natural properties that are beneficial for this purpose, such as being good in different climates, breathable, moisture-wicking, antimicrobial, and soft.
When people want socks to go hiking in, they would often think of wool socks as the best option because they are known to be good to keep moisture off of your feet, provide warmth, and not smell as much.
Also, wool jumpers are very common during winter or when travelling to places with a colder climate, as they help to insulate you and keep you warm.
The latest trend I have seen is merino wool shirts and jackets. Again, people buy them for travel for those same benefits mentioned above.
There is no denying that they are all good benefits to have in travel clothing. This, however, all comes at the cost of the sheep used to get the wool to make the travel clothing.
What’s So Bad about Buying Wool?
In the wool industry, sheep are beaten, kicked, stomped on, thrown, mutilated, and even killed by the workers who shear them"
– a recent PETA Asia investigation exposed the cruelty inherent in the UK wool industry.
Getting wool from a sheep may sound more innocent than it really is. Some people may think that, because it is not directly killing an animal like in the meat industry, it isn't so bad.
These poor sheep suffer pretty much from the moment they are born right through their whole life, serving one purpose – to become clothing for people to wear.
Just weeks after lambs are born, they generally have their ears punched or cut for identification purposes, then they have their tails cut off.
Male lambs are castrated at around 6-8 weeks of age. The process of this is so unethical and just absolutely heartbreaking to hear. The “ethical” way of doing it is to tie a band really tight around their testicles so that they lose blood supply, causing agonizing, long-lasting pain for them.
The second way is to cut the testicles with a knife. I personally don’t see how you can label one of these as more “ethical” than the other. After reading a lot about it, it seems people are conflicted as to which one is more “ethical”, maybe that is because neither of them are.
In Australia, there is no requirement to use anesthetic in these procedures on the lambs because of their age.
The Australian MCOP for sheep states that cutting and the application of rubber rings are acceptable methods of castration of lambs less than six months old, without anesthetic.”
Have you heard of the term mulesing?
I remember when a friend of mine first told me about mulesing, she said, “You can look it up online, but I will warn you now, you probably don’t want to watch any videos, it’s very distressing to see,” and this couldn't be more true.
So take this as a warning, if you want to read further into it, you better have a strong stomach. I still haven’t watched a video, reading about it is distressing enough.
In a brief summary, mulesing is a process whereby the farmers cut a large chunk of skin off of the sheep’s backside (while fully conscious, and often with no painkillers), as a form of flystrike control.
Mulesing should be accompanied by pain relief where practical and cost-effective methods are available. Operators should seek advice on current pain minimization strategies.”
This quote is a snippet from guidelines on the supposed ethical treatment of sheep during this horrific process. “Mulesing ‘should’ be accompanied by pain relief where ‘practical’ and ‘cost efficient’”. This is seriously troubling, and this is in Australia which is meant to be world-leading in the standards of wool production.
This is great news, but it still very much exists and is horrendous for the poor sheep. Even for the brands moving away from mulesing, this is just one less painful procedure that lambs and sheep endure during their life of imprisonment, misery, and suffering.
And this doesn't even begin to mention the shearing of sheep. Sheep are shorn once a year, which is a very distressing process for them. There are many reports on sheep shearing that show how many sheep get cut and worse from the shearing process.
Shearers are usually paid by volume, not by the hour, which encourages fast work without any regard for the welfare of the sheep. This hasty and careless shearing leads to frequent injuries, and workers use a needle and thread to sew the worst wounds shut—without any pain relief. Strips of skin—and even teats, tails, and ears—are often cut or ripped off during shearing.”
So What’s the Alternative?
The good news is that you don't need to use wool! There are many animal-free and sustainable natural fibers that are becoming available.
Today I want to introduce you to hemp.
Hemp is the new vegan wool. It contains many similar wonderful natural properties as wool. Some of these include moisture wicking, odor resistance, antimicrobial, and breatheability.
What is Hemp?
Hemp is a plant, so no animals are used during any stage of producing hemp and making it into clothes. But also, hemp does not require the use of pesticides or fertilizers.
Pesticides and fertilizers are really bad for our environment for many reasons. They are bad for the soil, the atmosphere (ozone layer), water (contamination), animals, and they are bad for the people who have to work with them – they can cause awful health issues for people.
A plant that can happily grow without any of these dangerous chemicals is definitely the way of the future in my opinion. Regular cotton used in most clothing also uses a lot of pesticides and fertilizers to grow, not to mention how water intensive they are.
Many people rank hemp as the most sustainable fiber to make clothes from because it is so easy to grow, is very durable, and very resilient. Not only is hemp used in clothing, but it is actually used for hundreds of other things, because it's so easy to grow, and has wonderful benefits. Hemp is perfect for your new vegan wool!
What Else is Hemp Used For?
A few other things hemp is currently used for are: food, milk, reusable nappies, and hempcrete (for building). But this is only the beginning: people are now starting to look into using hemp for fuel (biofuel) for cars, and even as an alternative for plastic to replace all single use plastics.
Hemp is starting to be used more and more in clothing, and the more demand generated, the more accessible it will become. Hemp right now is more expensive than cotton, because it is generally produced in a more ethical way. However, using hemp is definitely a cheaper option than wool.
One of the oldest fibers in the world, hemp helps keep you warm in winter and cool in summer, and gets softer the more you wash it. For all these reasons, we also consider hemp one of the most sustainable fabrics out there.”
There are 100% hemp clothes available, but they can feel a little bit coarser compared with other fabrics we are used to wearing like cotton. Although bear in mind, hemp actually softens with every wash, unlike classic fabrics, such as cotton, which get harder and less comfy after each wash.
Some people like 100% hemp, and others don’t. It's a matter of personal preference.
Hemp can easily be blended with other fabrics. I personally love the feel of 55% hemp with 45% certified organic cotton. You still get all of the benefits from the hemp, but it has a lovely soft feel to it, and this is perfect to replace sheep’s wool as the new vegan wool for the fashion industry.
Check out these awesome natural properties of hemp, very similar to wool, and see why they make hemp so great to travel in.
Benefits of Hemp for Travel Clothes
- UV Protection - Protects your skin from UV rays.
- Antimicrobial - Resistant to bacterial growth and odors.
- Durable - The most durable natural fiber on the planet.
- Gets softer the more you wash it - Yup, really!
- Moisture wicking - Helps to draw moisture away from your skin to keep you dry.
- Breathable - Lets the skin breath under the shirt.
- Easy to care for - Can be machine washed, or hand washed, usually needs less washing than synthetics and cotton.
Benefits of Hemp for our Environment
- Vegan - No animals used at any stage.
- Grown Organically - No pesticides or fertilizers used.
- Saves water - Uses less than half the water compared with cotton.
- Biodegradable - 100% hemp is biodegradable (and dependent on the dye used).
- Good for the soil - Gives back nutrients into the soil, rather than just absorbing them.
- Natural purifier - Produces more oxygen, and absorbs more carbon dioxide than many plants and trees.
- Grows quickly - Hemp grows really fast in comparison to many other plants.
- Natural fiber - No nasty petroleum or microplastics.
You’ve hit the jackpot of all eco-fabrics: hemp. Strong and durable, amazingly soft and delicate, hemp never fails to impress. Hemp is so fast growing and resilient that no chemical aids are needed in production. It can be grown in many contrasting climates and conditions around the world, and does not deplete the soil, but enriches its habitat- the plant the keeps on giving.”
The Green Hub
How Much Does a Hemp vs. Merino Wool Shirt Cost?
Merino wool shirts cost between $60 and $100 USD per shirt.
Hemp shirts cost between $35 and $60 USD.
So Which is Better, Hemp or Wool?
So let’s directly compare hemp to wool.
Below is a table comparing the pros and cons for each fabric:
Holds its shape
Purifies the air
Not rich in color
Can be hot to wear
So there you have it. As you can see, hemp has nearly all of the same wonderful properties as wool, and even additional unique properties, without having to use or harm any animals. Hemp really is the new vegan wool, and is fantastic for clothing for everyday and for travel.
My Personal Experience Wearing Hemp
After spending a few months researching all of this, I decided that there should definitely be more hemp clothing available. I wanted to try to drive awareness of hemp to show people that it’s a more sustainable and ethical option.
So, I went searching for hemp farmers and manufactures. I found a wonderful, ethical, vertically-integrated manufacturer. They farm all of their own hemp, knit or weave their own fabric, and make custom clothes from it.
I had some samples made and traveled around Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Indonesia wearing and testing them out. During my travels, I wore my hemp shirt on buses, tuk tuks, boats, cars, train, and planes.
On several overnight journeys, I even slept in it, and I wore it for five days or more consecutively without washing it. And after all that, I can safely say that it’s just perfect for travelling in.
It was comfortable, durable, breathable, protected me from UV rays, and kept me cool in hot and humid weather. And the natural antimicrobial properties meant that I could wear it for days without my bad sweaty smells clinging to it.
My new brand, Hempton, has just launched, thanks to a successful campaign on Kickstarter. We will be delivering our first batch of shirts in October, and you can receive a discount by pre-ordering on our website.
Thanks for reading, I can't wait to see the future of hemp – the new vegan wool – and other vegan clothes.
About the Author
I’m Hannah, a nature-loving, tea-drinking, off-the-beaten path exploring Brit, living in Australia. I have a passion for Planet Earth and travelling to see as much of it as possible, whilst doing so in a sustainable and ethical way. So far, I have traveled to 92 countries, and I would one day love to visit every country in the world.