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Are Sheepskins Sustainable?

Fake fur presents an apparent solution to the ethical issues with real fur. I cannot and will not defend the fur industry. But, we are at a place in history where the reality of our situation must be acknowledged. We eat meat in the UK. This means we kill a lot of sheep, 15.5 million a year (PDF). Sadly, we destroy nearly all of the sheepskins – a madness only properly appreciated when considering the damage caused by the man made microfibers we create to replace them.

Our textile industries have responded to the public demand to ditch fur. A demand to end fur farms and needless slaughter. The trouble is we still want ‘fur’ and soft fabrics. People cleverer than this writer have 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. All of it is damaging to life on earth.

Setting aside the serious global issues that we face because of oil, let’s look at the garment from the moment we first wear it.

As soon as you first put them on, your clothes start shedding fibers. This rate increases massively during each wash, Friends of the Earth claim that a single wash load can release up to seventeen million micro fibers. Micro fibers have entered the ecosystem, they’re in our food, in our water, and they are even in us.

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

Modern fake fur really came into being in the 50’s with the introduction of acrylic polymer fibers. These made man fabrics are easy to work with and can come close to feeling like fur. However, like all plastic, they have a useful lifespan. They also have a much longer decidedly not useful lifespan.

Microfibres have been found in air, rivers, soil, drinking water, beer and table salt.

Friends of the Earth

Broken artificial fibers join trillions of other tiny pieces of plastic that are literally entering the food chain. Man made garments take nearly a thousand years to degrade in landfill, or release damaging gasses when burned. Natural sheepskin simply biodegrades, happily we have on hand millions of sheepskins each year. Sadly, we destroy them.

99.55% of sheepskin is destroyed as a waste product of the meat industry. We then manufacture fake fur to replace what we have wasted.

Less than 1 in 200 sheepskins go through the tanning process, the rest are regarded as hazardous waste. If the public were to look at the issue of waste they might well grow more affectionate towards sheepskin.

Sheepskin has unique and valuable properties. It stops ice from melting and refreezing, for example, essential on Dartmoor at sub zero temperatures. It lets skin breathe and wicks moisture away. Its fibers are hollow, making them exothermic – they give out heat as they absorb moisture. All the while the structure of the crimped and curl fibers traps an insulating layer of air. Paradoxically, each fiber is also hydrophobic, making sheepskin easy to wash and dry (or to shake off picnic crumbs).

The shear waste is bad enough to make you wince, but to then manufacture a fake replacement for what you have wasted it is just plain wrong.

We are going to have to make different choices if we are going to make this life-on-earth thing work out. We are told our dietary choices need looking at too, with a reduction in meat. That is fine by me. But right now as at this moment we are manufacturing a plastic product to replace the natural one we are wasting in ridiculous quantities. Happily, the natural one is also better.

At the end of its useful life, wool can be returned to the soil, where it decomposes, releasing valuable nutrients into the ground. When a natural wool fibre is disposed of in soil, it takes a very short time to break down, whereas most synthetics are extremely slow to degrade.

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All our products come in plain biodegradable packaging. Simply recycle, or compost at home.

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Are Sheepskins Ethical?

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, usually for meat.

Dartmoor sheepskins, indeed nearly all sheepskins, come from sheep that have been slaughtered for meat. Sheepskins are a byproduct of the meat industry and have no real value until they are tanned. Fewer than 1 in 200 sheepskins are tanned (0.045%), the rest are dealt with as waste.

Do sheep die to make sheepskins? No.

Do sheepskins come from sheep that have been slaughtered? Yes.

How many sheep does it take to make a sheepskin? One.

Are sheepskins ethical? Your call.

Only you can decide whether sheepskins are ethical, but we are currently destroying millions of them.

In the UK alone 15 million sheepskins are burned or buried each year. Less than two decades ago wool was the primary reason for farming sheep here, now it’s meat. The ratio changed as recently as 2001. The UK currently farms a lot more sheep to eat.

Whilst I argue that there is a strong environmental case for using sheepskin (and as such an ethical case), it cannot be said that buying sheepskin will help the sheep themselves in any direct way.

Sheepskins are indifferent to the lives of sheep. Save for one simple fact: The best sheepskin will have never been near barbed wire.

Sheep like being outdoors on grass. On Dartmoor, they roam a landscape they helped create.

Almost all British sheep live outdoors – receiving exceptional care. On top of this, Dartmoor sheep live in an open landscape. Barbed wire does not make for good sheepskin, so it’s good that they have to deal with so little of it.

As eco as your regular laundry – sheepskin can be washed and dried using your regular wash, like a quality pair of jeans (this is how). During the wash, sheepskin sheds fewer hair fragments than man-made fabrics. The fibers that it does shed are harmless and will completely biodegrade.

Crafted to last a lifetime – sheepskin is not a throw away item, neither is it delicate or precious. It will last for as long as you store it dry. Use sheepskin outdoors or in, just wash, and store dry.

Are sheepskins ethical?

You must decide for yourself if sheepskins are ethical. We think so, and so do our friends and customers. Having said this, even some meat eaters feel squeamish about such an overt animal product as a sheepskin. If that’s you, we hope there’s no hard feelings.

All our products come in plain biodegradable packaging. Simply recycle, or compost at home.