When we think about animals and fashion, we generally picture spray-can wielding protesters leaping onto the backs of some fur-coat wearing Muffy. Perhaps we even think of shoes, since the type that last the longest come from leather, usually cow leather.
Textiles can be produced from an animals hair, fur, or even skin. In a textile-making context, “fur” and “hair” are interchangeable.
It might surprise you what we get from animals – and in a few cases, the animal even lives to tell the tale. (Well, no, but that would have added a new twist to Charlotte’s Web.) While there are many animals that work their way into upholstery, building material, and even medical equipment, for the purposes of this series, I’d like to focus on animals that contribute to the garments we wear.
The following are animals we wear, and may not even know we’re wearing:
Leather and suede are the most obvious, although we use cows for a lot more than just yummy hamburgers and drippy cheese.
Less obvious? Milk. It does a fiber good – it can be combined with synthetic or plant fibers to make a thread that strongly resembles silk.
Wool, that coarse, itchy kind that got you to start wearing t-shirts underneath your sweaters? That probably came from a goat the first time.
More wool, of a finer, less itchy type than the goat (in most cases. Depends on the goat, and on the sheep, and on the processing of the wool.)
- Llamas and Alpacas (and Vicunas)
This is super-popular hair fiber that goes into a lot of nice, warm outerwear. People that knit especially love the fibers from these South American hoofers because it’s super soft and warm, perfect for mountain travel and cozy mittens.
There are Angora rabbits, and there are Angora goats. If you’re wearing an Angora sweater, the goat might still be walking around, chewing a cud and getting shaved somewhere. However, if it says “Angora rabbit hair,” you are indeed wearing Thumper. Rabbits just don’t handle shaving that gracefully.
The camel-hair pieces come from the two-humped Bactrian camel. From what I recall in childhood, it made for a freaking itchy skirt, even when I wore hose underneath. The hair is usually used in sweaters, coats and suits.
If you’re wearing silk, you’re wearing worm spit. If it’s not spit, you’re better off not thinking about what it is.
- Musk Ox
This is used to make a specific type of wool called qiviut – it’s a bit miraculous, as it doesn’t shrink in water like other wools do. Muskox are now carefully stewarded in Alaska and Canada because they were almost hunted to extinction by the 1930s. If you can find some qiviut-made garments at a musk ox conservatory, great, but don’t even think about asking for mass production – that’s what got them in trouble in the first place.
A good yak produces multiple types of wool. More surprising to me? The horns have been used to make buttons.
So what are your feelings about animal products in fashion?