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This Plant-Based “Wool” Has PETA, Stella McCartney’s Seal of Approval

Don’t call it wool. It’s Woocoa—and it doesn’t require a single sheep to be shorn.

The winner of the PETA Prize for Animal-Free Wool, part of the 2018 Biodesign Challenge held in New York City last month, the faux fleece is the brainchild of a team of students from Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia.

Instead of incorporating petroleum-based synthetics, such as those found in most vegan furs, hides and pelts, the designers created Woocoa to be entirely plant-based, using hemp and coconut fibers treated with enzymes extracted from oyster mushrooms.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which co-sponsored the award with Stella McCartney and Stray Dog Capital, has long railed against a wool industry that it says considers sheep a “commodity and nothing more.” Over the years, the animal-rights group has captured multiple instances of farmhands in the United States, Australia and South America mistreating and mutilating their charges.

It was a 2015 exposé of Ovis 21, which included gruesome footage of livestock workers tackling, cutting, skinning and stomping on still-conscious lambs and sheep, that led Patagonia and Stella McCartney to sever ties with the Argentine farm network. By the time Ovis 21 shed the offending facility from its roster, the damage to its reputation was almost beyond repair. 

Patagonia put the brakes on wool purchasing, only recently reinstating wool that meets the requirements of the Responsible Wool Standard (and in some cases its own, purportedly more rigorous, Patagonia Wool Standard) into its fold.

Stella McCartney, which famously eschews “leather, fur and feathers,” still employs wool from select sources, including one whose yarns have achieved Cradle to Cradle’s hallowed Gold-level certification. This may change, however, considering both the British luxury house’s involvement in the prize and its enthusiastic embrace of biomaterial innovations such as Bolt Threads’ yeast-grown synthetic spider silk and fungal-based faux leather.

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Indeed, as part of their award, the Colombian designers will be participating in a one-to-two-week “learning experience” at Stella McCartney’s London headquarters, according to the Biodesign Challenge. PETA, whose slogan includes the phrase “animals are not ours to wear,” is naturally a fan.  

“The next generation of designers knows that animal-free, eco-friendly materials are the future of fashion,” said Anne Brainard, PETA’s director of corporate affairs. “The kind minds behind Woocoa came up with an eco-friendly, biofabricated material that will satisfy consumers and keep sheep from being shorn bloody for cruelly obtained

Other finalists for the award were the University of Maryland’s Kerasynth, a “microfluidic vegan skin” dotted with wool-producing follicles, and the Fashion Institute of Technology’s Werewool, which mimics the properties of wool by combining an expressed protein from sheep’s DNA with a bonding enzyme.