In the UK it is mostly sheep who are exploited for their wool, a lot of which comes from lambs who have already been slaughtered for their meat.

Two lambs in a field.

Lambs will suffer from welfare issues including mutilations, lameness, and live transport. Other wool comes from breeding ewes who will be killed for cheap meat once they stop producing as much, or their fertility drops. 

Merino and mulesing 

80% of Merino wool used in the global clothing industry, is produced in Australia. Lambs reared for this fine wool are susceptible to ‘blowfly’ infestation, where, due to fecal staining, the flies lay their eggs in the many wrinkles in the rear quadrant of the animal. To prevent flies from attacking the sheep, producers use a method called ‘mulesing’. Lambs, only a few weeks old, are restrained then the skin around the buttocks is cut off. This is carried out with shears and usually without anaesthesia or pain relief. This method is used as a quick and cheap way to prevent flystrike but causes excruciating pain, shock, and trauma to the animals.


Angora is considered a ‘luxury’ wool produced by long-haired Angora rabbits who are mostly industrially farmed across China where 90% of the product comes from. The rabbits are intentionally bred to have very long, soft, silky wool which is sheared, combed, or plucked from them every three to four months.

The abundance of hair makes the rabbits susceptible to ‘wool block’, (a potentially lethal blockage of the digestive tract) and severe intestinal problems due to ingestion. They can swallow massive amounts of hair, but their stomachs are not built to digest it, and, unlike cats, they are unable to vomit or regurgitate it.

Additionally, their ears are bred to be short, which prevents proper body thermoregulation and together with the thick fur can lead to severe heat stress in the animals.

The process by which the ‘wool’ is collected from Angora rabbits causes immense suffering and trauma. As well as being sheared, the animals can have their fur combed or ‘plucked’ by hand, with no pain relief provided. Rabbits naturally fear being handled and pinned down, which is a common process in the industry, and this can even lead to heart attacks due to the stress inflicted on them.

At just two years old they begin to produce less wool and are deemed no longer profitable. After a lifetime of misery, they are slaughtered for their meat.


A cashmere goat being combed.

A small number of cashmere goats are reared in Scotland, where they will eventually be slaughtered for their meat, but most of the wool sold in the UK comes from China, Mongolia, Iran, and Afghanistan. In these countries many of the goats’ basic needs can be neglected. The animals, including pregnant goats, repeatedly suffer from painful and stressful shearing which involves their legs being tied together before their undercoat is removed with a sharp comb. This process often results in the goats’ skin being pierced causing pain and infection. Goats are often sheared at a time that leaves them without insulation over winter months. Once production drops, they will endure horrific methods of slaughter. 

Cashmere from the Mongolian industry is certified by the Sustainable Fibre Alliance (SFA), which counts Scottish brands among its members. 

Alternatives to wool

There are plenty of sustainable vegan knitwear options available that don’t include any synthetics or plastic. Vegan knitwear can simply be made from cotton, preferably the organic variety, or hemp is another great choice for sustainable knitwear.