Unexpected Cruelty in Your Wardrobe

January 12, 2015

Welcome to the second post of The Vegan Wardrobe Challenge! If you haven’t read the first post, I suggest you go and read about why you should bother about creating a cruelty-free wardrobe.
In the previous post we talked about the “obvious” non-vegan materials like leather, fur, silk and shearling. Those materials require the animal to be killed to make shoes or clothes out of it.
The materials we’re gonna talk about today don’t require the murdering of the animal, but are not cruelty-free anyway.

If you have just gone vegan you’ll know how overwhelming it can be to avoid all the animals derived things that we usually buy. Animal derived ingredients are literally everywhere. Cruelty is in our food, in our cosmetics, in our houses and in our clothes. But we can change that. More demand creates more offer.
You are what makes a difference. Thank you.


I can hear you say “But sheep need to be shorn!”. Well, yes and no. First of all, sheep and goats do exist in the wild. Or at least they used to. Sheep are believed to be the first animals to be domesticated by man, and consequently farmed by man for his own needs.
The domesticated sheep has been bred in order to produce more wool. It’s been crossbred with wild mouflons many times, which gave birth to a lot of different breeds. Wild mouflons don’t need constant shearing, nature gave them a fleece to protect themselves from cold weather, as it gave us hair.
Sheeps were basically genetically manipulated to create more wool. Not so cool, right? Imagine if some other species on this planet manipulated us to grow more nails so they could cut them off to produce some kind of material.
We wouldn’t be able to press keys on keyboards or handle objects right, it would impair our movements.
Think of the extremely puffy layers of fleece of domesticated sheep like this. How does it look like now?
The cruelty factor lies in many aspects of the wool industry. First and foremost, sheep are farmed to provide us with wool. They are treated like wool-machines, and shearers often don’t care about the well-being of the sheep either. They are paid by the amount of wool they shear, so they need to be fast and God help the sheep who puts up a fight.
The sheep often suffer from scratches. The sheep are kept still by their legs, they’re flipped over and they are scared to death.

The Vegan Wardrobe Challenge - Unexpected Cruelty

Sheeps are also often sheared before it’s warm enough, so they die of exposure to the cold. They’re carried around farms in crowded trucks where many sheeps get trampled, are injured, die or are left to die with a slit throat.
Do you think a sheep likes the shearing process? I’m not going to post anything graphic on this blog, but I invite you to google “sheep shearing”. Then come back and tell me if it looks like we’re doing the sheep a favour.
Just to make it clearer: have you ever shaved your Persian cat? I did it once, and never did it again. She was ashamed and humiliated and just didn’t feel like her. She went back to her normal behaviour after days. Think about a sheep, going through that humiliating process many times in its life.


What is this ugly word? Well the meaning is just as ugly as the word itself.
In order to prevent flies from hatching eggs in the sheep’s skin, farmers cut a large strip of skin away from the sheep’s buttocks and around its tail. This process is called mulesing and more often than not it’s done without any kind of anesthesia, leaving the sheep suffering from basically going around with bare flesh. How awful is that? For your information there are some brands who have now taken the pledge of using wool that comes from farms that don’t do the mulesing practice. Stella McCartney is one of them, as is Uniqlo.

Wool Alternatives

Honestly guys? We don’t need wool at all. Why would we need that itchy material? Today, there are plenty of alternatives to wool. Polyester can in fact mimic wool perfectly. If you use wool in summer too, like cool wool, you can totally use cotton or linen instead. Better if organic of course 🙂
How to know if you have real wool on your hands? Just run the burn test. Here we are again! It’s exactly the same as we did with fur. Take a thread and burn it with a lighter. Does it smell like burnt hairs? Does it burn in black powdery ashes? Then it’s real wool. If it curls into a small black hard ball of plastic and smells like, well, plastic it’s polyester and you’re good to go.
When it comes to winter wool, I go for the itch test. If it itches, it’s wool!

Have you ever met a sheep? Have you ever pet a lamb? They’re gentle beings and I just can’t think about how they get treated and handled just for us to enjoy their own rightful fleece. 

The Vegan Wardrobe Challenge - Unexpected Cruelty


If you’re vegan, you should think twice before buying a down coat or a pillow. Most of the feathers used for down products come from ducks and geese farmed for the meat industry. Actually, for the cruellest of them: the foie gras industry. Again, I don’t want to go graphic on this blog especially because I’d love this post series to be about the alternatives to cruelty, not about how cruel the whole thing is. By the way, birds farmed for foie gras are force-fed in a cruel way. If you don’t believe me, just Google it for videos. Eventually, the bird will be killed for its meat and the plumage will be used for clothes or home decor.
If you’re not vegan, I want you to know that not all the plumage comes from dead birds. Farmed ducks and geese, sometimes also chickens, have their feathers plucked every 6 weeks. Basically, they wait for the plumage to grow back and then they violently pluck a handful of feathers from the bird’s chest again and again. The bird suffers this its whole life, dreading the moment the worker will come back to pluck its feathers. How would you like someone plucking your hair, one lock at a time?

Let’s break it down to this: a bunch of birds were either killed or violently plucked for you to wear that quilt jacket or for you to sleep in your soft duvet. Let’s change this, let’s stop buying products made out of feathers or down.

PS: Plucking feathers from living animals is forbidden in America and Europe. Too bad a whopping 80% of the down used in clothing and bedding comes from China, where there are no laws regarding feathers harvesting. The decision is up to you. Can you live without down products? Can you avoid the suffering of many animals?

Down Alternatives

My opinion is exactly the same as for the wool matter. It’s really simple: we have many alternatives to down, there’s no reason on Earth why we should keep wearing ducks and geese’s feathers filled coats. In my opinion, feather pillows are also very uncomfortable. I have owned the occasional jacket and duvet in my life, and feathers sticking out of lining were the most annoying thing ever. They itched and sometimes scratched my skin.
If you live in a cold country, go for a synthetic filled jacket. There are plenty of cruelty-free puff coats out there, just as there are many synthetic duvets.
How to know if a coat has a down filling? Well, I’m afraid you’ll have to make a little cut in the lining and see what comes out. You can also touch your coat while trying to “feel” what’s inside. If it’s “slippery” and uneven, chances are it’s down. If it feels smooth and solid, it’s a synthetic filling.

The Vegan Wardrobe Challenge - Unexpected Cruelty

Clothing Dyes

Yes, there are some dyes made with animal-derived ingredients, mostly insects. Can you believe it? So there’s a chance, even if small, that what you’re wearing right now is not even vegetarian. I don’t want to scare you or overwhelm you with these informations, but I want you to know the whole truth about the fashion industry. Remember that you can change fashion industry for the better. You really can: at the end of the day an industry thrives on its customers money, right?
Luckily, today many of these dyes that come from crushed dried insect carcasses have been substituted by synthetic colouring. They are widely used in food and cosmetics though, as synthetic dyes have been proved harmful to ingest.
Today, with “natural” regaining popularity in fashion as well, cochineal is being used to dye fabrics again.
For example, red dye can be made using cochineal. Approximately 80.000 to 100.000 insects are needed to make 1 kg of red dye. The insects live on cactus plants, they are brushed off the plants and collected in big bags. They are then left to die in the sun, steamed, or boiled in hot water.
Be careful when you are buying a red t-shirt and the label says it’s been dyed “naturally”, because natural could mean an animal.
Unfortunately dyes are usually not reported on the label, as there is no law that enforces it. You might want to dig deeper with brands that claim to use natural dyes, especially when you want to buy clothes in red, plum, grape, blackberry, and raspberry.
Some indigo colours, royal blue and purples could be made out of some species of sea snail. The blue colour is in a secretion they use to defend themselves. They can either be “milked” or crushed. It takes around 12.000 snails to dye “a trim of a single garment”.
Last but not least, octopus and cuttlefish’s ink could be used for sepia brown.
If we want to be a sustainable and cruelty-free buyer, we really want to make sure that the clothes we wear were dyed with dyes coming from plants and flowers. Always ask the producers when in doubt.



We’re done for today. Did you like reading this post?
Next week I will teach you how to read labels, identify “dangerous” symbols and denominations you might not recognize but that have a great deal of cruelty behind them.
You will also receive promotions, discount codes and giveaways on the upcoming e-book.
What will you find in the e-book? Every topic will be dealt with in more depth. You will know about more materials that are not cruelty-free, even the ones you’d never think about.

Do you want to live a cruelty-free life? Do you want to easily transition to a cruelty-free wardrobe? It is possible. I can help you guiding you through easy steps, planners and cheat sheets so you don’t get overwhelmed.
Let’s co-create a compassionate and green wardrobe. Let’s change this world together.

Check out all the posts in this series:

  1. Creating a Cruelty-Free Wardrobe (5/01/2015)
  2. Unexpected Cruelty in your Wardrobe (12/01/2015)
  3. How to Read Clothing Labels (19/01/2015)
  4. Top 10 Cruelty-Free Fashion Brands (26/01/2015)
  5. Recycled and Second-Hand: Your Sustainable and Compassionate Wardrobe (02/02/2015)
  6. Top 10 Cruelty-Free Fashion Blogs (09/02/2015)
  7. Cruelty-Free and Sustainable Fashion: It’s Possible! (16/02/2015)
  8. Your Cruelty-Free Wardrobe – Become Fashion ‘Conscious’ With This Comprehensive Guide (17/03/2015)

Will you take a few easy steps to make your wardrobe a compassionate place? Will you be kind to the animals and to the Earth? It’s a small decision, but it makes a world of difference.



About the Author


Hey, it's Elisa, the woman who founded styleonvega.com in 2010, when it was called styleBizarre. I gave this blog to another awesome woman and she's now running the whole thing: Cynthia. If you want to follow me on my website or social media please click on the icons that are probably showing somewhere around this text box :D

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A very helpful article, thanks! I always get the “but sheep have to be shorn” argument about wool!


    It can be annoying, I know! Now you know how to answer 🙂 I’m glad you found this article helpful!


Thanks so much for your dedication & sharing of this vital information.

Manchester Flick Chick (Chrissie)

Hmmm, I’m going to email shops where I buy clothes from on a regular basis to ask them about cochineal – thank you!


    Absolutely Chrissie! If they claim to use natural dyes then you have to ask to be 100% sure it doesn’t come from insects!


I’ve been avoiding wool and down for years but I had no idea that “natural dyes” could mean not plant-based. That’s so depressing. I recently bought a toothbrush that had “natural bristles” and nowhere on the packaging did it indicate what the meant so I assumed it was plant-based — however, it was boar’s hair! So I had to return it.


    Jesse, “natural”, “ethical” and “sustainable” don’t always mean cruelty-free unfortunately! Regarding dyes: cochineal is more often used in foods, but it could be used in clothing too so asking wouldn’t hurt I think 🙂 I’m sorry about your tootbrush… that teach us a lesson: always double check the “ingredients”!


The plural of “sheep” is “sheep.”


    Oh thank you Ggaetz! Thank God I have a copy editor for the book 😛


Thank you, it was very helpful. Is it ok to refer t this article on my blog?

Tim Hordo

Hi Elisa, great post! Another source of unexpected cruelty, and an especially difficult one to uncover, is in synthetic dyes that are tested on animals.


    Thank you for your comments Tim. Can’t wait to see your directory up and running! 😉


Hi! Thanks so much for the article, ver helpful!
I was also looking for some specific information, not sure you can help? I love to wear bikers (fake leather jackets). Although they are made out of PU, I was wondering if the black dye or another material could possibly not be vegan? What I mean is, they are not made out of leather, that’s a fact, but this doesn’t necessarily mean they are 100% vegan, correct?
Thanks again!


    Hi Saskia, you can be pretty sure that a PU leather jacket doesn’t have any animal derived ingredient in it. It’s all plastic, which can be an issue for the most environmentalist out there, but it’s definitely good for vegans. I don’t think plastic-derived materials are dyed with the same methods fabri is dyed; I dyed a fair amount of fabric myself and when some threads were synthetic the colour never came out right. I’m pretty sure they use chemical dyes for PU. Again, this might not be the best environment-wise but sometimes we must chose just one side right?

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