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I read this post about vegan clothing, but I'm wondering what are the best alternatives to wool for warm clothing (i.e. sweater), which would be suitable for countries with some snow and temperatures down to -20 °C (so not great cold, but this question could apply to this too).

I've learned that synthetic fibres (like in polar clothes) contains many endocrine disruptors due to the fact it's based on plastic - which, by the way, isn't always vegan in addition to the environmental costs - so I'm trying to avoid that.

  • slightly derailing, but wow, is it really possible that wearing synthetic fibres can cause endocrine disruptors from those fibres to enter the body and actually cause endocrine disruption? Those fibres are pretty inert, right? They break down very, very slowly... Is there any evidence that it could be detrimental to health to wear them? – Zanna Dec 31 '17 at 14:36
  • Endocrine disruptors can enter your body in many ways, including through your skin (transdermal patches are desired EDs that gets into one's body through the skin). About the material itself, plastic often contains EDs due to the production process to make it more flexible (or more whatever property you want this material to have), but the main part of EDs comes from finishing products to make the cloth water resistant, fire resistant, shining, soft, ... and those are not pretty inert fibres. – N. Cornet Jan 1 '18 at 19:39
  • @VioletFlare Please do not answer in the comments. What you've written here could work as an answer. – Nic Apr 20 '18 at 19:12
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    @Nic I thought they were more suggestions since I was not answering the specific "what are the best alternatives to wool for warm clothing (i.e. sweater), which would be suitable for countries with some snow and temperatures down to -20 °C" part of his question. I shall move my comment to an answer. – Violet Flare Apr 20 '18 at 22:24
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Wool is used in several ways so I'll discuss each use case separately. I found a great reference page from MEC about how to properly layer clothing for cold weather.

Base Layer (undergarments and linings)

When dressing for activity in cold weather, an ideal base layer will conduct moisture away from the skin. Any fabric that does this is called a wicking fabric. Wool is a popular choice because it wicks away moisture and resists conducting heat away from the body even when wet. Most natural fibres other than wool (eg. cotton, hemp, rayon) perform poorly in this regard. Hemp socks in particular are considered poor for activity and cold weather.

There are no natural fibres that excel as a base layer in cold temperatures. Cotton is a poor choice in cold weather. Wool works well, but is not generally considered suitable for vegans. Polyester works well, but it is a synthetic product.

Midlayer/Insulating Layer

One or more insulating layers will be worn to slow the movement of heat away from the body. Because insulating layers are not normally in direct contact with skin, moisture-wicking properties are less important than their ability to resist movement of heat. It is preferable that the first insulating layer (closest to skin) should not be cotton.

Again, synthetic materials performed better than natural fibres in this area. One popular option is Thermore Ecodown which is made from recycled PET plastic fibres. Another well regarded option is Primaloft Eco. In either case, insulating materials are not likely to be in direct contact with skin so health concerns about endocrine disrupters are minimized. Of course there are still possible concerns about production, washing, and disposal.

Outerwear/Shell

Hemp finally makes an appearance here. The Amsterdam-based Hoodlamb company is making all-vegan clothing that uses a mix of hemp and organic cotton to create a water-resistant outer shell. Wully Outerwear doesn't say what their Vegantech shell is made of, but I'm fairly certain it's a synthetic material. Similarly Vaute Couture also uses synthetics for insulation and external shell.

Conclusion

No, there is no material suitable for cold, wet weather which is both natural and vegan. At this time, vegans who want to stay warm in cold weather need to choose between the following:

  • Clothing made from animal by-products, especially wool from sheep or alpaca, or
  • Clothing made from synthetic fibres, especially polyester and preferably recycled.
  • Synthetic fabrics generally come from oil, and we have passed peak oil, so oil-based fabrics are not sustainable. Also, there are less greenhouse gases emitted to produce wool then synthetics, so wool seems like a more climate-change-friendly fabric. It would be short-sighted to avoid short term animal suffering only to make long term suffering worse through choices that accelerate climate change. – Mark Stosberg Apr 25 '18 at 17:33
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When one would typically use wool socks (for instance, I did a four day hike in the Appalachians recently) I typically use bamboo fiber socks. They're soft and warm, and in my experience do not hold water the way that cotton does.

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Here is a post from PETA detailing 8 vegan fabrics. This site yarnyarn also sell ethical based yarn, such as banana yarn which is vegan "Make your ethical fashion pieces with sustainable handmade vegan yarns" - quote from their site. So far I've only talked about materials, this post may be helpful as she talks about how and where she found vegan winter clothing.

From your question I gather you are not based in the UK since we don't generally reach -20℃ but hopefully these sites will be useful. I also realise that I have not specifically answered the following part of your question:

what are the best alternatives to wool for warm clothing (i.e. sweater), which would be suitable for countries with some snow and temperatures down to -20 °C

Though I do hope the information provided gives you a good head start.

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