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Are Sheepskins Ethical?

sheepskin laid on log

Are sheep slaughtered to make sheepskins?

Are sheepskins OK for the environment?

A sheepskin is a sheep’s skin and has come from an animal that has been slaughtered.

Most sheepskins are from animals that have been slaughtered for meat. Less than 1 in 200 sheepskins are tanned (0.045%), the rest are disposed of as hazardous meat-industry waste.

We eat well over 5 million sheep each year in the UK, yet we tan just 60,000 sheepskins. Instead of using this high quality biodegradable resource, we replace it with man made fibers, derived from oil.

Every second of every day a lorry load of plastic clothes is burned, or added to landfill. Every year, millions of sheepskins do the same. A sheepskin will last for many years, even if given the most basic care. At the end of its long and useful life, a sheepskin has the good grace to rot into the earth. It returns.

Friends of the Earth commissioned a study which found microfibers even in our own selves. From the report:

Washing machines and wastewater treatment plants aren’t designed to trap the minute plastic fibres that our clothes shed during washing. Many of these fibres sneak into our waterways and ultimately the oceans. And lots are caught up in sludge at the treatment plants – which is then sprayed over our soils as fertiliser.

Friends of the Earth

“In 2005 [we ate] 14.1million lambs (+ 2.2million ewes and rams) Only 60,000 UK skins p.a. are processed by the remaining UK tanning sector, less than 0.45% of the total”2015 Sheep Industry Report

Almost all British sheep live outdoors and receive the highest levels of animal welfare. Sheep raised on Dartmoor, for example, will see few fences in their entire lives.

Go back less than two decades and wool was the primary reason for sheep farming in Britain. Wool comes from living animals that have been shaved before the weather gets too hot. In 2001 the ratio changed in favour of meat – we currently keep (a lot) more sheep to eat. This is the source of our sheepskins.

We cannot address the needs of people who cannot live with such an overt animal product in their life. If that’s you, we hope there’s no hard feelings.

The art of creating soft, lasting hides has been passed down through generations. It’s a craft skill in an industry that slumped from an anti-fur sentiment. People concerned about animal welfare have legitimate concerns.

Barbed wire is not compatible with good sheepskin

The sheepskin industry can do little to improve sheep welfare, and buying sheepskin has zero effect on sheep lifespan. Almost all aspects of sheep husbandry are guided by the demands of the meat industry. All except one. The best sheepskin will come from sheep that have never torn their skin on barbed wire fences. We believe that sheep raised in an open landscape, like Dartmoor, produce the best fleece and live the best lives.

Our textile industries responded to the public demand to ditch fur. After Jeff Banks championed sheepskin on The Clothes Show on BBC 1 in the 80’s, Vivienne Westwood countered with a demand that fashion labels and consumers ditch fur. In a time of peak consumerism (and cheap oil) this was an obvious ethical choice. The trouble is we still wanted ‘fur’.

People cleverer than this writer created faux fur, which approximates that of animal origin but is made instead from plastic, derived from oil. Some of it is pretty good and feels authentic. Most doesn’t come close. None of it has the exothermic properties of wool. None of it degrades very quickly. All of it sheds microfibers in use, and particularly during washing and drying.

Sheepskin can be washed and dried much easier than you might think, using the same energy as a pair of jeans. During the wash, sheepskin sheds fewer hair fragments than polyester fabrics, and those that it does shed are harmless.

We urge you to again enjoy sheepskin, an otherwise waste product. Sheepskins do come from sheep that have been slaughtered, but we are currently, literally, throwing them away. Feel free to join our mailing list below, which comes with a 20% discount code “welcome20”, redeemable at the checkout.

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