In 2016 I decided to go vegan and zero waste.
That meant no animal products and no trash. However, I was still selling scarves made from a wool and acrylic yarn. Wool and plastic. It felt hypocritical, so I decided to look for a better solution. Here's what I learned:
Wool is a cruel industry. No, you don't need to kill the sheep to shear it, but commercially sold wool comes from factory farms where sheep are kept in miserable conditions and frequently beaten and abused during the shearing process. Additionally, sheep are prone to "flystrike" - drawn to moist and warm places, flies lay eggs in the sheep's skin. Since commercially farmed sheep are bred to produce large amounts of wool, they are especially prone to flystrike so, to avoid this, a painful procedure called "mulesing" takes place. That's when large chunks of the sheep's flesh is removed to create a scarred skin that won't attract the flies. This is typically done without any pain killers or treatment. Lastly, sheep are usually send to slaughter for their meat after being used for their wool.
Even small, family-run farms that raise their sheep humanely raise their animals for fiber and meat. After much searching, I found a few that are purely fiber farms... but they usually sell unspun fibers, or raw fleece. Most spinning artists (people who make fleece become yarn using a spinning wheel - so cool) buy fibers from a variety of farms, so it's hard to trace back exactly where your wool came from.
It looked like wool was out of the picture, and that's when I learned about alpaca.
Alpacas are part of the camel family and originally come from Peru. They've been domesticated for thousands of years and their high-quality fibers were once reserved for Incan royalty. It's not vegan, of course, since it's an animal fiber. However, I source my fiber primarily from A to Z Alpacas, a family-run farm in Canada, where the alpacas have names, distinct personalities, and are loved and deeply cared for. The shearing process is gentle, and the animals live long, happy lives on the property. The yarn I use is not dyed meaning there are no chemical additives to the yarn, and it's minimally processed - it's not even spun! The colors I use are the natural fur of the alpaca, meaning that your Form 1 wares are chemical-free, 100% royal baby alpaca fibers that were carefully crocheted to form a long-lasting, high quality winter staple.
Below are some of the advantages of alpaca fibers, compared to wool:
- Eco-friendly, renewable fiber that is not dyed and unprocessed!
- Alpaca is a hollow fiber making it warmer, lighter, and stronger than wool
- Hypoallergenic: wool is coated in lanolin, an oil that causes people to have allergic reactions - it makes the wool feel itchy. Alpaca fiber is free of lanolin, so it always feels good on your skin
- Softer than cashmere
- Naturally water resistant - perfect for snowy weather
- Naturally resistant to pilling, stains, wrinkles or static
Most commercially available yarns (the kind you buy at Michael's or Jo Ann) are 80-100% acrylic. It's a cheap and versatile synthetic fiber. To be called an "acrylic fiber" the yarn must be at least 85% acylonitrile, which is a compound used to make plastic.
Acrylic yarns, like plastic and other oil-derived products, are non-renewable, non-sustainable materials. Every piece of plastic ever created still exists somewhere on the planet today, a scary thought considering that acrylic fibers release nearly 730,000 tiny synthetic particles each time it gets washed. Those tiny synthetic particles are going to our oceans, where they're never leaving, poisoning the fish and polluting our waters. These microfibers are could be the biggest source of plastic in our oceans, and I don't want to be a part of that.