An Ethical Guide to Conscious Clothing

May 5, 2023

What’s Wrong With Leather?

Millions of cows, pigs, sheep, and goats are slaughtered for their skin every year. They are castrated, branded, and dehorned and have their tails docked without anesthetics. Then they are trucked to slaughter, bled to death, and skinned. Leather is not simply a slaughterhouse byproduct—it’s a booming industry. The meat industry relies on skin sales to stay in business because the skin represents the most economically important byproduct of the meat-packing industry, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Animal skin is turned into finished leather through the use of dangerous mineral salts, formaldehyde, coal-tar derivatives, cyanide-based oils and dyes, chrome, and other toxins.

People who have worked in and lived near tanneries are dying of cancer caused by exposure to toxic chemicals used to process and dye the leather. A New York State Department of Health study found that more than half of all testicular cancer victims work in tanneries.

When you buy leather products, you may be purchasing leather from Asian dog and cat tanneries; because product labeling rarely indicates where the skins originate, there’s no way to know for sure.

Visit for more information on the leather industry

What’s Wrong With Wool?

Shearing sheep involves more than just a haircut. Sheep need the wool that they naturally produce to protect themselves from temperature extremes.

Because shearers are usually paid by volume rather than by the hour, they often work too fast and disregard the animals’ welfare. Sheep are routinely punched, kicked, and cut during the shearing process.

Much of the world’s wool comes from Australia and New Zealand, where almost 140 million sheep each year undergo a gruesome procedure called mulesing, in which shears are used to slice dinner-plate-sized chunks of skin off the backsides of live animals without anesthetics.

Millions of sheep raised for wool in Australia and New Zealand are shipped to the Middle East for slaughter. These animals are placed on overcrowded, disease-ridden ships with little access to food or water for weeks or even months. During their grueling journeys, they suffer through weather extremes, and temperatures on the ships can exceed 100°F. Many fall ill when they become stuck in feces and are unable to move, and many others are smothered or trampled to death by other sheep.

Intensive sheep farming, especially in Australia, is responsible for the degradation of natural waterways and land habitats and for the emission of greenhouse gases, such as methane, into the atmosphere.

When you buy wool products, it is likely that you are buying wool from sheep who were raised in Australia or New Zealand, and since most wool is routed through China or Italy for processing, product labeling rarely indicates where the wool originated.

Visit for more information on the wool industry.

What’s Wrong With Silk?

Silk is the fibre that silkworms weave to make cocoons. To obtain silk, manufacturers boil worms alive in their cocoons.

Humane alternatives to silk include nylon, milkweed seed-pod fibres, silk-cotton tree and ceiba tree filaments, and rayon.

What’s Wrong With Down?

Down—which is used to fill comforters, pillows, parkas, and other products—is the soft under feathering of geese.

Down is plucked from geese either after slaughter or while they are being raised for meat or foie gras (“fatty liver”), which is produced by force-feeding geese through a funnel until their livers balloon to seven to 12 times their normal size.

Plucking birds causes them considerable pain and distress; one study found that the blood glucose level, an indicator of stress, of geese nearly doubled as they were being plucked.

Down is expensive and loses its insulating ability when wet, while the insulating capabilities of cruelty-free synthetic fillers persist in all weather conditions.