When sustainability meets fashion: This vegetarian fake fur alternative uses real animals

Danish fashion designer Stine Sandermaan has come up with an animal friendly solution to the plastic pollution caused by fake fur - and it uses real animals.
When it comes to fashion, wearing fur can be seen as being akin to holding a gently smouldering cigarette - we know it’s bad but it just looks so damn chic.
For years, fake fur has provided a solution to this ethical dilemma, but worrying reports about its ecological impact have recently emerged. In 2011 ecologist Mark Browne found that 85% of human-made material on the world’s shorelines consisted of tiny synthetic fibres. The culprit? Nylon and acrylic - two materials that can be found in the majority of synthetic textiles, including fake fur and synthetic wool jumpers. Besides being completely non-biodegradable, hundreds and thousands of the micro fibres from nylon and acrylic are released into the waterways when synthetic fabrics are washed.
It’s a depressing picture, but thankfully one that is starting to be approached with the full force of the fashion industry’s creative prowess. Stine Sandermann is one of the up-and-coming fashion designers coming up with innovative solutions. A graduate of Chelsea College of Art’s MA in textile design, which focuses on the development of sustainable textiles, Stine was born and raised in Denmark. As a child she would visit a local farm with her mum to collect excess sheep’s wool which her mum would then spin into her own yarn for knitting. It’s a little known fact that surplus wool from farmed sheep is burned as a waste product. “This is happening all over the UK, Germany, Sweden - not just Denmark” said the 26 year old designer over Skype. “I decided to find a way to take these waste materials and up-cycle them” she explains.
Stine’s eponymous brand SANDERMANN is a womenswear label based on this sustainable philosophy, and their trademark organic* fabric is one that is made from Danish wool. “A lot of people are scared of wearing wool because they think that it will be itchy” she says, “but it’s actually a really great material”.
fake fur
Currently, most wool used in the fashion industry is imported from Australia, New Zealand and China. It comes from Merino sheep that are bred specifically for that purpose. Buyers are often none the wiser, but campaigns against wool have exposed the miserable and cruel living conditions of these animals. On the other side of the coin, a report by the European Commission in 2014 found that acrylic, the principal fibre in fake fur and other synthetic fabrics, had the worst environmental impact of nine fibres studied. Despite these two equally unappealing choices, the enduring love affair between the fashion industry and animal products like fur, wool and sheepskin (real or fake) shows no sign of ending. The pro-fur and fake-fur lobbies have been at loggerheads with each other for years about which side presents a more eco-friendly choice.
“For me, animal welfare is equally as important as sustainability” Stine says, “I make sure that the sheep are sheared properly by a professional and that none of the animals are harmed in the process. I know exactly where the fabric comes from and I can guarantee that no animals were harmed”. To produce the wool fabric in the SANDERMANN collection, she partnered with a Danish sheep shearer and sheep breeder. Currently, the fabric is made by hand using a felting technique and the resultant ‘fake’ fur is used to create eye catching coats and sleeves.
fake fur
Environmental interests when it comes to food and lifestyle choices are starting to extend to fashion and sustainable alternatives like this offer a viable solution which also matches consumer demand. With the spotlight on sustainable fashion, and more and more people turning vegetarian for environmental reasons, it’s debatable how long high-end brands like Stella McCartney can continue touting fake fur as an ethically sound fashion choice.
What brands such as SANDERMANN demonstrate is a commitment by new designers to embrace a practical approach to ethical fashion, navigating and engaging with both environmental and animal rights considerations in a way that goes beyond a marketing strategy.
* Organic in this case denotes material that is of natural origin, not necessarily holding certification.
EDIT 6/4/2017: It’s important to note that not all of the wool used in the SANDERMANN collection is sourced from sheep bred for meat. The fibres used in the coat are from Gotland sheep, and they are bred for wool. The purple pockets used on the coat are from Spelsau sheep, a combination breed that are bred for their meat and wool.

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2 Comments on “When sustainability meets fashion: This vegetarian fake fur alternative uses real animals

  1. I have some issues with this. If I’m missing something here, big apologies, please let me know.
    Stine claims ‘no animals are harmed in the process’ - yet the wool is a by-product of sheep reared for meat. When this by-product becomes a primary product (as demand for this ‘sustainable’ product increases), it will stimulate more livestock rearing. Thus = bad for environment and sheep for the known reasons etc.
    I’m thinking this because; leather is often considered a by-product of the meat industry, as if wearing leather is a sustainable efficiency. Leather (apparently http://www.care2.com/causes/the-shocking-truth-about-leather-no-its-not-a-meat-byproduct.html) represents 10% of a cow’s market value. Which clearly becomes a primary incentive, not a by-product. Apply this understanding to Stine’s wool…
    I’ve read synthetics can be more sustainable than many natural fibres because they can be recycled more times than natural ones (which get shorter and shorter till unusable), and do not have the same land, water and agrochemical impact. Would be great to know if some synthetics are better than others in terms of not releasing polymer fibres in the wash, vs an equal demand for organic natural fibres.
    I just wander whether you think this sheep shop is a robust sustainable option for the future?

  2. Hi Hugh,

    I guess the question we have here is whether small scale livestock rearing for wool (such as the kind used on the farm in Denmark) is more devastating for the environment than nylon and other synthetic materials. I’m not equipped to statistically answer that question right now, but my educated guess is that synthetics - which are produced using masses of oil - are far more harmful. I see where you’re going with the leather comparison but it doesn’t quite match up, because to create leather the animal must necessarily die. At the moment, Stine is using wool from animals used for meat farming but that’s out of her desire to not see this organic material go to waste, this isn’t a necessary part of her business model - more a practical solution to a current problem. Hope that makes sense?


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