The majority of sheepskin used in manufacturing is by product of the meat industry. However does that make sheepskin ethical or not?
We will hopefully try to shed some light on the process so you can make your own decision.
Where does sheepskin come from?
We eat millions of sheep every year, with the majority of the skin thrown away. A small percentage of the skin from abattoirs will get sent to tanneries to be converted into sheepskin. Sheepskin items are essentially made from materials that would be considered waste.
You could argue that if the meat was not eaten in the first place then there would not be the waste however, as currently stands a lot of meat is eaten every year. It makes sense that if an animal is to be killed for food then we should use as much of that animal as possible to avoid waste.
How is sheepskin produced?
There will be variations in production of sheepskin with more ethical suppliers coming to the market.
General sheepskin production process
Once received the skins are rehydrated, trimed, with any excess fat removed. They are then washed again and soaked in acid followed by tanning agents. The skins then go through various rounds of drying and stretching. It’s then ironed, sheared and trimmed if needed. Finally it’s inspected before dispatch.
To find out more about the sheepskin manufacturing process click here.
How can you tell if a sheepskin is ethically produced?
There are 3 things to look out for
How similar is each product. Animal skins are all different therefore if all the products looked identical then there would probably be a lot of processing.
Are there any defects? It’s quite likely the more pristine the product the higher the chemical usage and the processing.
How much is it? If it is a really low price point it’s likely to be mass produced and farmed with low ethical standards and low wage workers.
Benefits of sheepskin clothing
Sheepskin is a natural product with a long life span. Sheepskin can easily be washed and any fibres that are lost are natural and biodegrade. Sheepskin is a hardy material and as long as it’s well cared for could last you a lifetime. For an item of clothing that is certainly sustainable.
How to care for sheepskin
Brush the rug with a metal comb, this will keep it fluffy, and get rid of any bits and dust caught up in the fur. You could also use a vacuum although it does not tend to work as effectively. However if you have a close cropped skin it should not be brushed.
Sheepskin rugs can also be cleaned in the washing machine but please check the care label before washing. Once washed they should be dried out of direct sunlight and away from any direct heat.
Clothes should be gently hand washed with a sheepskin detergent. Rinse with cold water and remove as much excess water as possible. Lay it flat away from direct heat and sunlight to dry naturally. Finally brush to fluff up the hair and release any tangles.
So is sheepskin ethical?
Ultimately it’s a personal decision. If no sheep were slaughtered for consumption then sheepskin would be unethical as you would be killing the animal for it’s skin. However at the moment thousands of sheepskins are being destroyed for no reason other than they are not wanted. That said if you were a vegan I could understand that wearing animal skin might still be unacceptable.
If you like to read more about sustainable clothing click here.