Is Fleece Vegan? Or Are Animals Exploited For It?

Once winter hits, the time comes to wear bulky clothes.

However, when you’re vegan, things might get tricky. Many clothes, like sweatshirts and winter jackets, often contain materials that don’t gel well with core vegan principles.

Manufacturers often use fleece to make warm clothing, but are they exploiting animals for using it? 

I’ll give you an answer to that question below.

What Is Fleece?

Fleece is a synthetic insulating fabric made from a type of plastic called polyethylene terephthalate (PET).

Manufacturers use it to create sweaters, sweatshirts, jackets, mittens, hats, blankets… and it’s a lighter and animal-free alternative to wool.

Like wool, fleece is also lightweight and contains anti-perspiration properties that allow the moisture to evaporate and dry the garment more quickly.

People often choose fleece over wool because of its breathable fabric, which is useful during exercise. 

However, manufacturers may incorporate other fibers when they have the core fleece fibers, namely from materials such as wool, hemp or rayon. This adds a different texture to the final product. 

You can determine what type of fiber they’ve incorporated by looking at the clothing label. 

For example, if you see “cotton fleece,” it’s usually just a cotton-fleece blend, and it’s vegan. The problem is that occasionally you can find “wool fleece”, which is a blend between wool and fleece, and that’s no longer vegan.

Is Fleece Good For The Environment?

Being made from non-renewable materials — fleece isn’t the most environmentally friendly material. 

While the use of synthetic fibers and other chemicals makes fleece resistant against humidity, it ends up causing more harm than good.

When you place it in the washing machine, the material deteriorates faster than clothes with a natural fabric.

Also, the issue with polyester-based materials like fleece is that you’re allowing small particles of plastic, pesticides and chemicals to flow into the ocean.

washing machine
Dejan Krsmanovic, license CC BY 2.0, Flickr

A recent study from the University of California at Santa Barbara found that on average, synthetic fleece jackets release 1.7 grams of microfibers each wash, or 250,000 synthetic fibers.

They also found out that the older the garment is, the more synthetic fibers it releases. Also, once the miniscule microfibers flow into the ocean, the fish consume them, which leads to a tainted food chain, also affecting humans.

As it stands, regular fleece is bad for both the environment and biodivesity. 

Is Eco-Fleece A Better Alternative?

Recycled polyester is easier to recycle and is a more eco-friendly option.

Numbers show that creating a plastic bottle made of recycled plastic uses 75% less energy than its counterpart.

Even though energy and water are still used to process these plastics to create new products, that amount is inferior to first-time plastics.

This means we’re using fewer resources (think water, petroleum, etc), and reducing carbon emissions.

At present 60% of first-time rPET production goes to create new clothes. We’re producing fewer clothes with first-time plastics while ensuring the plastic already in circulation gets re-used and doesn’t enter the landfill.

Is rPET A Viable Option?

Clothes made from rPET still need to be washed.

And just like any other plastic, it decays and flows into the ocean before moving up the food chain, where they may have a detrimental impact on fish.

Microplastics can block a fish’s digestive tract and reduce its hunger.

This alters its natural feeding pattern which significantly affects its growth and reproductive nature. Some fish may even starve and die from having their stomachs stuffed with microplastics.

As a vegan, this should concern us, because although it may appear like we’re not affecting animal lives, that’s not actually the case. When we choose to wear plastic-based clothes, we negatively affect animal lives. 

Although recycled plastic uses less energy in production, the act of melting plastic threatens the environment and wildlife around the production site.

PVC emits harmful amounts of dioxin when it’s burned, which are extremely toxic to humans (and animals, as shown here) which only furthers environmental degradation and animal suffering.  

Alternatives To Fleece?

If you’re looking to prevent your clothes from polluting waterways and putting lives in danger, I can easily come up with a few eco-friendly ideas to help you fully revamp your wardrobe.

Organic Cotton

Why organic cotton and not just cotton?

Well, conventional cotton is one of the dirtiest and most polluting crops in the world.

The excessive use of chemicals and pesticides in the cotton industry puts farmers’ lives and the environment at risk. It’s also an industry where there’s child labor — not to mention the fact that farmers get miserable pay for excruciating hours of work. 

The miserable pay leads farmers to get drowned in debt, thus the rates of farmers suiciding have gone up.

If you want to help farmers and prevent this from happening, I don’t think supporting the conventional cotton industry is an ethical thing to do. Instead, try investing more in organic cotton.

Linen (Flax)

As a vegan, you’re probably familiar with flaxseeds.

They’re your best source of plant-based omega-3 and they can be your finest piece of clothing.

Europeans and Japanese have manufactured linen in a natural and sustainable way for the past millennia. However, unlike the Europeans and Japanese, the Chinese use fertilizers to grow linen, which isn’t as eco-friendly. 

If you want natural and high-quality linen, search for clothes manufactured in Europe or Japan, as they are more sustainable than linen clothing sourced from China.

Hemp

Hemp is a weed, so it grows exponentially with little water and no pesticides.

It produces more pulp per acre than trees, and it’s also biodegradable.

Typically, you can use very part of the hemp. The stalk’s outer bast fiber can be used to make textiles, canvas, and rope while the core (hurd) can be used to make paper and construction materials. 

Since the US and Australia lifted the ban on hemp production, we’re seeing its popularity rise. 

Fun fact: Hemp uses half the water to produce twice the amount of fiber produced by cotton.

Bamboo

When grown organically, bamboo fabric is a great eco-friendly option.

However, for industrial bamboo, farmers often use fertilizers to augment their harvest.

Also, while bamboo grows pretty quickly and is more sustainable than most plants, exploiting on a larger scale can create complications for animals like the panda who thrive in an environment filled with bamboo. 

So, if you decide to purchase bamboo items, go for the ones made from organic bamboo. 

Conclusion

One vegan may despise animal cruelty, while another may despise animal cruelty and the fact multinational companies enslave farmers in Asia and the Middle East.

However, there are also vegans who are vegan for a different reason, and buying ethical and sustainable clothing is not their priority.

Still, we ought to seek more sustainable alternatives, if we have the means to do it. 

Even though fleece is a man-made material and doesn’t directly cause animal pain, it still has some dire implications — from its production and through its prolonged use. 

Therefore, if you can, opt for more sustainable alternatives like the ones I’ve mentioned. 


Fleece FAQs

Is Fleece Polyester?

Yes, manufacturers create fleece from a type of polyester called polyethylene terephthalate (PET) or other synthetic fibres — which get woven and brushed into a lightweight fabric. 

Does Fleece Absorb Water?

No, fleece does not absorb water because it’s made from polyester, a water resistant material — that is in many cases also waterproof. 

Does Fleece Shrink?

While fleece isn’t supposed to shrink — if you wash it at really high temperatures, there’s a chance it may shrink.