The Kind Life is a community around Alicia Silverstone and The Kind Diet where friends, doctors, experts in green living, and members share vegan tips.

Action Alerts

Why I Won’t Be Wearing Wool This—or Any—Winter

When you think about shearing sheep for wool, you might say to yourself, “Eh, that’s not so bad. The sheep just get a haircut.” But a recent PETA investigation of nearly three dozen “shearing sheds” in the U.S. (in Colorado, Nebraska, and Wyoming) and Australia (the world’s top wool producer) revealed that a lot more than just hair gets cut off sheep—including teats and bits of ears.

Sheep shearers are paid by volume, not by the hour, which encourages them to work as quickly as possible—and as a result, the animals are handled roughly during the process. In their haste, shearers often cut and gouge the sheep, leaving them with huge gaping wounds that are crudely sewn shut with a needle and thread—this is done by the shearers themselves, and no painkillers whatsoever are given to the sheep. If the animals kick and buck, something I’d do if someone stuck a sewing needle through my wounds with nothing to numb the pain, shearers sometimes even slice off animals’ body parts, including ears, teats, tails, and testicles.

And then there are the callous, mean shearers, who take out their frustration and anger on these helpless animals. PETA’s investigator documented shearers who punched, stomped, and kicked gentle sheep and bludgeoned them with electric clippers and even a hammer! When sheep struggled in an attempt to escape the pain, workers stood on their heads, stomped on their necks, and slammed their heads hard into the floor. One shearer even used a sheep’s own body to wipe the terrified animal’s urine off the floor. Another shearer twisted one sheep’s neck until it broke and then kicked the animal down a chute. In PETA’s video, you can hear him say, “I might have killed it.” He was right. The sheep had died.

PETA’s investigator never saw a supervisor reprimand any of the abusive workers or a veterinarian treat any of the wounded animals, no matter how severe their injuries were. Instead, injured sheep were ignored or, depending on the severity of their injuries, shot.

So the wool industry is anything but warm and fuzzy. But as if that weren’t bad enough, wool isn’t even “eco-friendly,” as the industry loves to claim. Sheep are routinely doused with toxic insecticides that pollute local waterways. And grazing sheep contribute to deforestation, desertification, and topsoil loss, and ranchers often kill native animals—such as wolves and coyotes in the U.S. and kangaroos in Australia—because they prey on or compete with sheep for grazing land. Sheep are also leading contributors to climate change, second to cows. Environmentalists call them the “Humvees” of animal agriculture because of their high rate of methane emissions, which is considered 20 times more damaging to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.

The good news is that there are many alternatives to wool and the other cruel winter fabric, down: including organic or used cotton, linen, Tencel or Lyocell, acrylic, polyester fleece (which can be obtained from recycled materials), and more. Instead of being itchy like wool, animal-friendly fabrics are soft and warm—and unlike wool, polyester fleece even insulates when wet. There are plenty of good companies—including IIKONEEVAUTE, and Brave GentleMan—that refuse to carry wool for ethical reasons and are using these exciting fashion-forward materials in their designs.

The sheep abusers can’t pull the wool over our eyes. Join me in taking the wool-free pledge and in making this a #WoolFreeWinter. It’s the only way we’ll ever save sheep from being treated as punching bags instead of the gentle, unique individuals they are.



Photo Credit: Bure Bure


  • Allan Burns

    Alicia, you are truly beautiful, both inside and out. Thank you for always speaking out for animal welfare.

  • Julie Swartout

    This winter, I am taking the vegan pledge and I got vegan rain shoes!

  • Julie Swartout

    I already took the vegan pledge and bought vegan rain shoes for this winter!

  • Julie Swartout

    Yes, I do agree that sheep’s are ‘gentle, unique individuals’! I’ll try to avoid wool and want to try and avoid faux leather from now on. The only hard part is is that lanolin is in some cosmetics, but is a vegetarian ingredient just like beeswax. Well, I’ll try my best at this topic and I like to keep in mind that synthetic lanolin is also available. I think people are not 100% informed of what specific ingredients they are using. I guess during hard times when we cannot be the vegan that we want to me, we can just be in our hearts and know that we are striving for a vegan/vegetarian lifestyle. That’s what is most important!

    • Cynthia Nolder

      p.s. I do realise that some folks are allergic to wool

  • Carolyn Emole

    I fail understand why no one is ever jailed or even prosecuted for the horrific abuse of animals. It makes me sick to my stomach and breaks my heart.

  • Caitlin Danielle Stonechild-Be

    Although the US has terrible practices with sheep, wool from Iceland does not. There are no wool factories that exist to the same extent as North American ones. we drove and hiked all the way around Iceland. Sheep roamed just where ever, they have strict standards for how their wool is collected and there are no predatorial animals in Iceland, and the majority of the plant life and landscape is pasture ready. So farmers don’t need to kill any native animals, and they don’t need to deforest any areas. It is the most ethical wool you can buy. Even the major store that sells the wool, and sweaters, uses labels that tell you the name of the farm, and in the case of sweaters, the name of the person who made the sweater. It’s important to remember that just because North America gets so many things wrong, there are many places that do value ethics, balance, and sustainability.

  • Nadia

    I think the investigation you are mentioning might have been made at shearing sheep raised for meat and being sheared before slaughtering, was it? I know a lot of small farmers who love their sheep and would kill a worker like that… besides that sort of behaviour is anacceptable anywere…
    I make felted items and choose my wool. The sheep do need shearing and it’s a haircut in a peaceful small farm situation most of the time. Moreover just as there is more and more organic cotton available, there is more of hand picked (cleaned) and plant dyed wool as well. The demand will change the production, so it’d be a good suggestion to be aware of commercially used wool and turn to small farmers/producers/crafsmen instead, rather than throwing the sheep wool out with the bathwater…

    • Cynthia Nolder

      You are sooo right, Nadia! We used to raise sheep on a very small scale, & we would never have sheared them inhumanely! We loved our sheep. I have made woolen felt also. It’s your choice, if you want to go alternative, but some things are very practical using wool

  • Billie Charlesworth

    I hope i will not ever be buying wool unless i know who and where it comes from. I once had an Aussie that when we sheared him in the hot summer he was happy and more energetic. I often wish i had saved all his hair so I could make a sweeter out of it . What is anyone elses take on this ?

    • Cynthia Nolder

      It’s me again, encouraging folks to keep an open mind-not everyone raises & shears sheep inhumanely!