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Vegan friendly warm and natural textiles - a big oldfashioned brainstorming thread  RSS feed

 
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What a beautiful hat!  

There are many degrees of veganism, just like there are many degrees of permaculturalists.  Trying to paint them all with the same brush just leads to trouble, so I'll stick with my friend as an example.  She's full on vegan which seems to be a bit beyond the 'don't eat anything with a face' vegan I'm used to.  Admittedly, I don't usually get on well with such a rigid views, but with my friend, her actions are consistent with her values.  I treasure this in a human.  

For her, veganism is not harming animals and not using animal products.  So even castoffs like dog hair or wool would not be counted as vegan by this definition.  She says it would be the equivalent of eating milk or honey.  I said that sounds delicious.  She gave me 'a look' which I interpret to mean 'it sure is a good thing I like you because when you say something that insensitive, I just don't know what to do'.  

Silk doesn't have to kill the 'worm' (although most silk you'll find in The West does).  Actually, there is a great variety of different styles of silk production, including some that harvest the cocoons from the forest floor, of wild silk moths after they have metamorphosized.  It makes a rougher silk than we are generally used to in the west, but I love the textile of the fabric.  Even so, it's an animal castoff, so it doesn't fit with the strict vegan view.  


One of the real frustrations right now is that the vegan-friendly clothing that she likes, comes from far away.  Looking at Pinatex which is made from pineapple leaves (a waste product from growing pineapples), the fibres are extracted in one country, then processed in another, then transformed into clothing in a third.  Now believe it or not THIS IS FANTASTIC that there are so few countries involved.  Commercial clothing almost never has so short a journey.  But the travel distance still makes her feel iffy about this textile.  
 
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That seems nice and warm to me, Deb! A lot of work to crochet, and probably heavy, but if you really want 100% plant fiber, this might be the solution.
 
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Inge Leonora-den Ouden wrote:That seems nice and warm to me, Deb! A lot of work to crochet, and probably heavy, but if you really want 100% plant fiber, this might be the solution.



You do appreciate being toasty after all that work. I looked at it as an investment in future good sleeping so I crocheted an afghan three times (literally) to get what I wanted. Same for if you would use this approach as a body insulating lining. In which case I would suggest that the inner layer might possibly need to be Single Crochet (SC) to give it structural ability to not sag out with time. For the afghan which is mostly horizontal, it doesn't have gravity trying to sag it.
 
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Quartz milkweed jackets
 
Inge Leonora-den Ouden
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Using milkweed as an insulation layer is interesting. But then do not use oil-based fabrics for the rest of the jacket ...
 
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She should find someone with a pet Old English Sheepdog.  They must be shorn regularly. My mother used to breed them for many years. Some people have made clothing from it. Would be very warm.

This might be a stretch for a vegan but why not tan the hides of roadkilled deer, coyotees, foxes and raccoons? These are accidental deaths and her repurposing their hides would bring more honour to the animal than let it rot in a ditch.

 
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Nettle was a pretty major source of linen-like fabric at one time.  Every Saxon farm early on had a big nettle patch for cloth, with food and fodder being secondary uses from what I remember.  Archaeologists see a nettle patch as a fair initial indication that there was a steading there once.  The romans and greeks grew a lot also, although I'm not sure if they used it for fiber.  I've read nettle linen is much stronger than regular linen.

Multiple layers is the way to go for warmth.  

The birch bark shoes mentioned higher up the thread were once commonly used in northern europe.  If you're in an area with lots of birch, just peeling you firewood would keep you shod.  Wooden shoes with very thick socks used to work great in mud.  

I know in the middle ages there was a type of dried grass they commonly used instead of socks.  I've read that some of the Suomi sometimes still use it, drying it out overnight and repacking it in the morning.  

Dried spagnum moss would be an excellent, cheap and often locally available alternativer to down for a jacket in the great white north, giving lots of dead air space for insulation between layers of cloth for not much weight.  Two problems with it are: it will eventually break down to a powdery stuff (need it designed into the clothes that you could get at and replace the filler occasionally), the second problem is that spaghnum moss is very water absorbant.  It holds up to 8 times more water than cotton batting (which is why it would be a superior material for bandages or maybe some kind of feminine hygiene thing).

Water proofing, with no animal products and no synthetics would be tough.  Maybe one of those long, grass overcoats like otzi (the iceman) and  japanese peasants wore.  Cedar bark was also woven into rain cloaks I think.  Neither option will win you many fashion prizes.  Possibly making an oilcloth (putting oil oil/beeswax mix on cloth in the sun and waiting until it has hydrolized (is that the right word?) so that it isn't as sticky or messy as it would be when the oil is first applied might serve.

The importance of hoods, etc has been covered by other people.  Although I seem to remember some southeast Alaska natives wore hats made of cedar wood (probably carved very thin).  It seems like it would be uncomfortable to me, but I'm probably missing padding or something.

Mittens are warmer than gloves.  The Athabaskans in central Alaska used to wear a pair of big, heavily insulated mittons (too thickly insulated to use your hands when they are in them) on a string around their neck.  They were situated where they could keep their hands in the mittens comfortably walking around.  If they needed to use their hands, they pulled them out of the mittens, did their thing, and put their hands back in the warm spots.  I'm guessing they had thinner mittens on their hands also.

I applaud your friends determination to do what she thinks is right, but I think she set herself a real challenge.  There is a reason there are not many non-animal using traditional societies in the north.  Now however, we can get an overview of multiple societies.  We also live in a different world, shipping stuff all over, so maybe it can be done, (which adds to the footprint, but hey, you pays your money and makes your choices).  

I'm puzzled about no wool.  Shearing the animal does it no harm and provides an incentive for people to keep sheep on less than ideal land.  The animal species and breeds the go extinct are the ones that no one has a personal reason to save.  I'm curious if you or she can articulate why she feels that wool isn't acceptable.  If it isn't easily articulated, that's ok because in private matters, "It just feels right to me" is a perfectly acceptable reason.  I think most people have certain things that, whatever justification they might come up with, are really based on "just it feels right".


 
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I can't add anything to the textile choices already mentioned, but I do know a useful trick for staying more comfortable in deep winter, particularly when you find yourself moving into and out of harsh weather often.  I was in an extreme cold climate unit during a portion of my military service, and this was a common trick we used.  We'd take those flexible margarine packets you see at restaurants, or in our case the mess hall, and stuff a few in places that needed heat the most; such as inside our hats, in our oversized snow mittens, the chest pockets of our blouse shirts (which were under our coats), the toes of our boots before we put our socked feet in them.  Some of us would also put them in more, uncomfortable, places if we knew we were headed for a deep cold event; such as in each arm pit, our underwear, and under the neck fold of our turtlenecked sweaters.  It turns out that margarine melts at almost exactly the ideal temperature of human skin, 96 degrees.  This proves very useful because, while you are inside the heated spaces, you are more comfortable as the margarine melts inside it's plastic packet, as it absorbs your excess body heat; then as you leave the heated space, the margarine will give up that same extra heat as it solidifies again.  Eventually, we would eat it, too.  Butter packets don't work as well, though.  It has to be real margarine, which works well for this "vegan friendly" rule, since margarine is based upon vegetable oil.
 
raven ranson
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Mick Fisch wrote:

I'm puzzled about no wool.  Shearing the animal does it no harm and provides an incentive for people to keep sheep on less than ideal land.  The animal species and breeds the go extinct are the ones that no one has a personal reason to save.  I'm curious if you or she can articulate why she feels that wool isn't acceptable.  If it isn't easily articulated, that's ok because in private matters, "It just feels right to me" is a perfectly acceptable reason.  I think most people have certain things that, whatever justification they might come up with, are really based on "just it feels right".




Jeff Marchand wrote:She should find someone with a pet Old English Sheepdog.  They must be shorn regularly. My mother used to breed them for many years. Some people have made clothing from it. Would be very warm.

This might be a stretch for a vegan but why not tan the hides of roadkilled deer, coyotees, foxes and raccoons? These are accidental deaths and her repurposing their hides would bring more honour to the animal than let it rot in a ditch.



Interesting thoughts.

We had a long chat about this and she says that animal castoffs don't count as vegan - even for things like wool where the animal suffers if it isn't shorn.  I don't understand the justification for this so I'm not going to try and explain it.  What I do understand is that it's important to her to be consistent with her values.  Vegan means using no animal products, even if the animal isn't raised to create those products.  This means that roadkill is out too.  


Another thing that came up was the idea that the item could be made in part by non-ecofriendly means (like some of these new rayon's from bamboo or soy) but was built to last.  So, if this thistledown jacket had a synthetic lining, would that still be okay if the jacket would last her 50 years?  We don't know.  It would be a step better than short lasting synthetic textiles.  With wool and linen, we can make clothing, by hand, that lasts decades (or at least we used to be able too, these skills are almost lost now).  Does the life of the cloth effect how eco-friendly it is?  It's more a hypothetical question, but one to ponder while we wait for more ecologically sound clothing to come on the market.  
 
Inge Leonora-den Ouden
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R Ranson wrote:...

We had a long chat about this and she says that animal castoffs don't count as vegan - even for things like wool where the animal suffers if it isn't shorn.  I don't understand the justification for this so I'm not going to try and explain it.  What I do understand is that it's important to her to be consistent with her values.  Vegan means using no animal products, even if the animal isn't raised to create those products.  This means that roadkill is out too.  


Another thing that came up was the idea that the item could be made in part by non-ecofriendly means (like some of these new rayon's from bamboo or soy) but was built to last.  So, if this thistledown jacket had a synthetic lining, would that still be okay if the jacket would last her 50 years?  We don't know.  It would be a step better than short lasting synthetic textiles.  With wool and linen, we can make clothing, by hand, that lasts decades (or at least we used to be able too, these skills are almost lost now).  Does the life of the cloth effect how eco-friendly it is?  It's more a hypothetical question, but one to ponder while we wait for more ecologically sound clothing to come on the market.  



No animal products, or only plant products? There is a difference. Mineral products does not count as animal products, but neither as plant products, they are called 'lifeless'. Does a vegan use mineral products?
If I were a vegan, I would not want to use oil-based products. Oil is a product of animals+plants living very long ago.
I would consider too if the production process is animal-friendly (and people-friendly too).
And the life of the cloth / clothing, I consider that the most important myself ... but I am not a vegan.
 
raven ranson
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Inge Leonora-den Ouden wrote:

R Ranson wrote:...  



No animal products, or only plant products? There is a difference. Mineral products does not count as animal products, but neither as plant products, they are called 'lifeless'. Does a vegan use mineral products?
If I were a vegan, I would not want to use oil-based products. Oil is a product of animals+plants living very long ago.
I would consider too if the production process is animal-friendly (and people-friendly too).



Tricky question.

Especially since I'm not vegan myself.  Veganism and it's interpretations seem to be very personal.  What I say next is my understanding and may not fit with every interpretation of veganism.  

Most of my vegan friends have no problem using oil and mineral-based substances in their lives.  This is especially useful for clothing, shoes, handbags, soil fertility, &c, as it allows them the opportunity to expand their vegan values to their clothing, shoes, handbags, and whathaveyou.  I've tried talking with them about the harm this approach can have on animals, and this always ends the friendship.  I'm too passionate about it and should know better than to challenge another person's core values.  

On the other hand, the friend who this thread is about brought the topic up, so I felt okay to talk about it with her.  Her thought is that oil and minerals are a limited resource and must be treated with care.  This is actually what started her on the whole vegan eco-friendly clothing hunt.  She doesn't like the damage that oil extraction and mining can cause.  She doesn't avoid these products entirely but has the goal to be animal-friendly in every aspect of her life - including the production and disposal of any products she buys.  
 
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It's a tricky problem.  

That said,

Cotton can be nice if it is VERY dry, but is dangerous in damp cold.  It holds a lot of moisture (including sweat or water vapor from evaporating sweat), and becomes very cold in damp cold weather or wind.  The evaporation of the dampness (the same 'wicking' effect that keeps you cool in summer) can cause the body to chill quickly.  In the rainy Pacific Northwest, outdoorsmen sometimes say "Cotton kills," and teach newbies to use wool, silk, or synthetics.  A lot of the extreme cold climates are effectively dry, but cotton is a lot better bet for indoor, low-exertion winter gear than for heavy-duty outdoor gear.  If you do use cotton layers outdoors, be very careful to keep them dry - even to the point of carrying a spare layer in a waterproof satchel if you are going any distance, or keeping a dry change of clothes in the car.  They say to remove layers to prevent sweat from building up when you exert yourself, but my experience has been that it's hard to adjust layers fast enough to avoid getting cotton uncomfortably damp - and of course, once you stop the exertion or the day cools a bit, you get VERY cold.  Wet + cotton + cold = hypothermia.

Japan's climate varies a lot, but many parts of it are sub-tropical. Japanese traditional arts may not be the best exemplars for colder climates; people in LA wear cotton 'sweaters' in 'winter', too.

Linen, hemp, and nettle (I haven't worked much with nettle) are probably slightly warmer in cool weather, but I still feel they are still more comfortable in summer than in deep winter conditions.

The only plant-based item I regularly wear in winter here (just a few feet of snow, -20s-30's either scale) is a canvas jumpsuit lined with quilted insulation.  The insulation lining is synthetic (easier to slide on and off over indoor clothing), but this sort of "Alaska sunsuit" could likely be made with organic canvas and a smooth plant-based liner fabric (a cotton satin, or very fine-weave linen, perhaps).  I'd go for a hollow-fiber or water-resistant batting if possible.  My mother likes flannel-lined jeans, which might be available organic (or could be improvised with organic denim pants + flannel PJs).

For wet-weather raingear, woven cedar-bark capes were traditional in the pacific NW, but the pictures often don't show the warm liners (dog hair or white wool, most often).  Both cedar and spruce roots can be split for use in woven, waterproof or near-waterproof hats and footgear.  It takes skill, but there are skilled weavers and you might be able to arrange to purchase a modern rain-hat of this kind if you have the funds.  
http://www.donsmaps.com/pacificnwclothingmasks.html
http://www.donsmaps.com/images27/haidahatsm.jpg


http://clarissarizal.com/blog/tag/lily-hudson/ http://clarissarizal.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/Group_2.jpg



These resinous rainforest barks and roots are a bit more water-resistant than cotton or most herb-stalk fibers, and can be made more so with Stockholm tar (pine tar), melted pitch, or oils.

There are vegan substitutes for beeswax for most things, so I think oilskin is still an option.  Look for a mix of several oils and waxes, so you get the same flexible stickiness as beeswax - a stiff oil will just crack and wear out at the creases.  Mixing in some pine oil or Stockholm tar might be useful for flexibility as well as making a nice smell (piney or smoky, respectively).  
Coconut oil, shea butter, or other hard waxy oils could be used; poppyseed or walnut oil could provide some flexibility.  (You can get the last two from art suppliers, and the first two from cosmetics, beauty aid, or soap-making suppliers.  Organic and fair trade are often available.  Poppyseed oil might be particularly interesting to lend a vegetable oil-and-wax mixture similar flexibility to beeswax (it is a 'drying oil' like linseed, cures by oxidation, but it cures a lot slower than linseed and remains flexible - almost gummy - and clear).  
I might try blending poppyseed, coconut oil, and shea butter in a pan, like you would to make a salve, for use as oilskin 'wax,' wooden shoe wax, etc.  I haven't tried it, and couldn't tell you the exact proportions.  Heat the fabric or wood before applying, as well as the oil, for better penetration. Or iron it in with a paper to protect the iron from getting hopelessly waxed up.  

Edible waterproofing - or cold-proofing - can also happen from the inside out.  With a rich, high-calorie diet, and a lot of outdoor exercise, and a warm sleeping space at night, you can stay a lot healthier in marginal gear than if you are starving or dehydrated or letting your metabolism drop into hibernation mode. Healthy vegans generally pay attention to protein balances, B-vitamins and other fat-soluble vitamins, and treasure good sources of 'heavy oils' (saturated fats) such as coconut oil.  It can be hard to find these oils locally in cold climates, but some seed and nut oils, and nut butters, are worth finding.  I'm told that irritability, reduced brain function, and pallor can accompany the most common dietary deficiencies among vegans who are not careful.  
Oils (and dried proteins) were traded across vast distances since time immemorial, because they are extremely valuable and/or essential for survival.  
The Greek athletes reportedly oiled themselves before competing (buck nekkid), it helps keep you warm but it may also have been a way of showing off those exquisite bodies.
I've also heard of people 'bathing' with oil (coating themselves in oil then scraping it off) where water was scarce.  
Keeping the skin oiled can help hold heat, as a backup option while the gloves and layers are still under development.

Animal fibers have a lot of advantages for warmth - plants often don't need the warmth, so why would they evolve to produce it?  they just go dormant in winter.  
Animal hair in very cold climates may even be hollow, for extra fluffiness, and winter-active animals and birds seem to spend a lot of each day preening to keep their feathers or fur properly oiled.
Coating plant fibers with a natural oil? Below the tight-woven oilskin, adding oil could just be a soggy mess... but maybe oiled lichen (sphagnum) might not soak up water as fast.  Wouldn't dry out as fast either, so there's that.  

National Geographic often reports on them finding frozen bodies with their shoes stuffed with grass, coats padded with edible lichen (we have a black "moss" here that might fit this category).  However I am often compelled to note that these folks are found frozen and dead.  Still, it was probably cutting-edge tech during the early ice age.  The straw and lichen were filling out wool, fur and leather... but I like the idea of fluff-holding 'pockets' that can be refilled as you refine the padding, or to change out and dry out soaked or smelly padding.  

There are a few hollow plant fibers where they've evolved for buoyancy, super-light-weight wind-catching structures, etc.  I'd be tempted to try downy things like milkweed and thistledown (tends to matt down and compress, but could still be better than cotton as a 'felt' layer in a quilted project).  Cattail fluff - not sure whether it's water-absorbant or float-and-repel water, I've heard of it being used for menstrual pads and pappoose diapering, but the pappoose method involved directing urine away not soaking it up, so I'd have to dry it.

I think if you can work out a waterproof shell (farm down-jacket or down-vest style), and experiment with padding, on top of felt-lined jeans, organic tights, etc, it could be a survivable experiment.

Just to relieve my feelings:

I am definitely on the side of "building healthy working relationships with animals often leads to more informed and compassionate choices than being 'animal friendly' by having as little to do with them as possible."
I don't show my solidarity with migrant farm workers by avoiding Mexico, or fruit.  I show it by my ongoing efforts to speak conversational Spanish, and by buying local organic fruit (delivered to the grocery by a short guy named Miguel), and by supporting Hispanic-owned businesses and fair labor practices, and by engaging with kids at the farmers' market.  And by spending almost a year as a foreign migrant worker myself, in New Zealand...

So while I support people who live up to their own values, and I was vegetarian myself for a few years, the vegan cause is not my cause.  
I don't mind eating 99% vegan and wearing hemp in the right circumstances ... such as in a warm climate like India or Morocco, where lentils grow IN THE GROUND, and 100-year-old olive plantings still bear copious fruit.  

I heartily applaud the effort to consider the ethics of synthetics, which are the default substitute for 99% of "ethical" vegans.  Oil drilling and refining, and draining of swamps for shipping channels and port "improvements," are a high cost to the swamp critters of the Mississippi delta, and the Ecuadorian Amazon, to offer two examples.

The scary thought is that if you go to a pre-petroleum standard, the "working classes" or servants of an estate might expect one new set of clothes per year, and a rural person might not own more than one set of clothes.  (Or one 'good' suit of clothes for church and funerals, and a much shabbier pair for working days.)  Clothing was a LOT more expensive, and closets smaller (if they were needed at all).  Unless you were a very wealthy person whose conspicuous consumption supported entire industrial sectors of seamstresses, tailors, weavers, and importers, you made do and learned to judge second-hand fabrics by the durability of the material.  
Sleeping quarters (another place to look for insulation and warmth tactics) historically varied from featherbeds and furs, to straw ticks or piles of pine or heather branches, to bunking down in the barn with the animals, to sleeping on the hearth or kitchen table where it was warm.  Throughout much of human history, furs and skins were the cheaper way to cover yourself, and woven fabric was premium finery.

So if your vegan friend can manage a single outfit, by dint of hand-modifying and savvy thrift shopping, she is doing pretty well on the all-time spectrum of human wearables.  
 
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http://www.nalagadesigns.com/product-category/weaving/cedar-hats/


Here's one place where you can purchase twined cedar hats (child-size $500, adult-size with a good rain brim $2000)...
 
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I was wandering around on Facebook today, killing a little time and I came across this and instantly remembered this discussion on vegan clothing. I just had to share.

http://tvcast.naver.com/v/1171350

What a lot of labour (as a spinner, knitter and crocheter I would say "labour of love") and what a beautiful product at the end.
 
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I wondered where gleaned animal products that don't harm or even involve animals working for people would fit.


my vegan friend made me a pair of  fingerless gloves this past year- I call them Biseranian fibre- she spoke to the local bison burger folks at the farmers market and asked if they would gather fleece from the fence pen -which they did, and she spun that and knitted it alongside Pomeranian fibre that she had been given to her by a woman who kept her dog fur from brushings... all local BC fibre gloves. and tho they are certainly not vegan, I do appreciate that they are otherwise underused fibre with huge warmth!
I must say I am totally enjoying this thread as a great conversation.
it reminds me of a debate I had years ago- I remember a co-worker who was vegetarian ( as I am) being appalled that I would wear leather footwear. He claimed that was wrong, and that his nylon Nikes were far better, and could not see how the labour issues and toxic output from the synthetic fibres being made under dubious eco-laws in developing worlds was problematic. my attitude has been to buy leather footwear made in countries with better worker protection and support small industry production- spend more money for a product that last longer etc... I am always interested at how we each solve these conundrums differently and have a different sense of what we are each comfortable living with as compromising solutions. Yes, in my perfect world i would clothe myself only in my own made local gear, but that is not an easy fit for city and contemporary life.
I have been spinning more wild nettle fibre lately and finally having more success- before I die maybe I will have a shirt made from nettle, and am still trying to understand how to process the milkweed fibre in the stalk ( not the seed) meanwhile still a big lover of animal fibres of all sorts!
 
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My friend told me this winter that she's given up on this quest.

She had some dangerous encounters with winter weather and not being dressed warm enough in plant-based clothing.  She's now debating with herself about going back to synthetics or striking wool of her animal-product ban.  Wool is renewable and better for the environment than the synthetic (because she can source wool garments that are grown and processed locally to her), but wearing it would mean she can't call herself vegan anymore (by her personal strict standards).

I still think it could be possible to be both eco-friendly and vegan.  I am just not sure how to handle a cold winter like they ones we get in the rest of Canada.  

Can we keep brainstorming ideas?  
 
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raven ranson wrote:My friend told me this winter that she's given up on this quest.

She had some dangerous encounters with winter weather and not being dressed warm enough in plant-based clothing.  She's now debating with herself about going back to synthetics or striking wool of her animal-product ban.  Wool is renewable and better for the environment than the synthetic (because she can source wool garments that are grown and processed locally to her), but wearing it would mean she can't call herself vegan anymore (by her personal strict standards).

I still think it could be possible to be both eco-friendly and vegan.  I am just not sure how to handle a cold winter like they ones we get in the rest of Canada.  

Can we keep brainstorming ideas?  


At this very moment I am wearing a vegan-recycled hand-knitted sweater again (this isn't the same one I showed before, but it's made in the same way). Which is warm enough indoors, but outdoors only with a wind-  and waterproof coat over it. It's still an interesting challenge to find out if it's possible to make vegan warm clothing of all natural fibres.
As a 'flexitarian' (eating meat and using animal products now-and-then) I consider wool the best fibre in cold climates. But I'm very interested in finding all other possible solutions.
 
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Since wool may be on the table, I'm curious. Would she rather have locally produced wool and support a non vegan industry or use repurposed thrift store wool of potentially unknown origin? An interesting puzzle.

When I was a dietary vegan I bought second hand leather or wool products. As I learned more and became an ethical vegan that made me uncomfortable because it felt like I was endorsing the use of animal products even though I did not directly support the industry. Many vegans have a problem with using "leather look" products for the same reason. (Maybe this will give people an idea of the type of reasons a vegan would not want to use something like naturally cast off animal hair or roadkill hide.)

I admit my winter wear is pretty synthetic. Like almost all my clothing, it's second-hand and lasts years and years, much of it even predating my veganism.  It's a nonideal situation for me as well, but iit's not something I've researched and experimented with enough yet to provide any new ideas. Your friend has my sympathy.

Once I find some in my size, I do plan on trying out klompen/wooden shoes. I'll report back on that. My mother in law wore them when she was younger and says once you've customized them (whittle a bit here, sand a bit there), they're extremely comfortable.
 
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