Teen FAQs

Why don't vegans use leather, silk, or wool?

People choose to become vegan for a variety of reasons including health issues, environmental concerns, and animal ethics. Many vegans practice their lifestyle for all of those reasons and would likely argue that veganism is much more than just a dietary habit. Most vegans believe in living a life that does not use animals in any way whether it be for food, clothing, pets, entertainment, or experimentation. Leather, silk, and wool would fall under the category of animals being used for clothing, but are they necessary? Most vegans would argue that they simply are not, because there are many alternatives to these products that do not involve harming animals. Also, when you choose not to spend your money on items made from leather, silk, or wool, you are doing your part to tell these companies that these are not products that you support.

Leather is not merely a by-product of the beef industry. In fact, the leather industry is a booming industry and many cows are raised only for their skin. Much of the leather in this country comes from countries overseas where laws protecting animals either do not exist, or are not enforced. It is not uncommon for cruel methods to be used, such as removing the cows' skins while they are still alive. Even after the leather is collected, it must be properly treated before it can be used to make into products such as shoes, purses, and gloves. The chemicals used to treat the leather are very toxic and can cause harmful effects on the environment and those who work in the factories that produce leather products.

Silk is made from the stands of material produced by silkworms. It might seem like there is a difference between killing animals and killing insects, but there is actually little difference in the way insects are treated. Insects, just as animals, are also raised by the millions only to be killed and have parts of their bodies used to make products such as scarves, shirts, and sheets. The silk is not only gathered from the worms, but the worms themselves are typically killed in the process, usually by being boiled or steamed while still alive. As you can see, the treatment of silkworms is not so different from the treatment of other animals that humans use and abuse.

Wool is another product that seems like it could be an innocent by-product, but just like cows are raised for leather, many sheep are raised only for wool. Sheep raised for wool are bred to have wrinkly skin which produces more wool, but it also attracts flies and maggots. A procedure called mulesing is used to prevent this problem and involves cutting out a dinner plate-sized portion of skin from the sheep's back usually with no anesthetic. The procedure itself can also attract flies and maggots which can cause deadly infections. Workers who shear sheep are usually paid by the number of sheep they shear per hour, so they are forced to move at a quick pace and it is not uncommon for ears, tails, and skin to be accidently removed in the process.

Clearly, all of the procedures for raising and producing leather, silk, and wool could be considered unethical and harmful to the animals who are forced to live under such conditions. Fortunately, there are many alternatives to these products made from synthetic materials that look exactly the same as the real thing. No one would ever know otherwise. These products usually tend to be less expensive than the real thing too. The best way to tell if something is made from animal products is to check the label. Animal-free clothing and accessories can be found in many stores and online. We can now better understand why many choose not to support these products and select kinder alternatives.

by Ed Coffin