For some people, the mere presence of an animal ingredient seems insufficient evidence of cruelty having taken place. They point to things like wool, milk and honey as examples of animal-derived substances whose production they feel involve no cruelty. While the cruelties involved in the production of these substances may compare favourably to those present in the production of meat and fur, they are undeniably present. The “big deal” about animal ingredients is that they are always representative of an imposition by humans upon animals. It is only the degree and nature of harm caused that varies from substance to substance.

All members of the animal kingdom possess a pain-causing mechanism that aids them in their survival instinct by signalling the presence of a harmful organism. It is impossible to obtain any substance from their bodies without causing pain or harming them. They do not wish to part with their body materials that readily. Animals sense such impending intrusions and immediately seek to flee. Therefore, it is very unlikely that any substance that has been derived from an animal was derived without using force upon it and without drawing any protests from it. For example, to obtain milk, we inflict the pain of starvation or under-nourishment on the calf (the rightful owner of the milk) which has to be forcibly tied away from the cow, its mother; to obtain honey (the bees’ food) we steal it by smoking the bees out of their hives; to obtain wool we impose the discomfort of insufficient insulation upon the sheep (nature’s intended user of the wool) which has to be forcibly held while being sheared (apart from the fact that the value of the fleece is taken into account when the sheep are sold for slaughter). Some may debate about the magnitude of the suffering caused in such cases, but the point remains that an unsolicited and usually painful intrusion and imposition is made by humans upon animals every time we obtain any substance from them.

So then, if we ourselves stop using wool, we should stop gifting it to family and friends and for charity too. Organisations that collect donations to give woollens and blankets to the poor could be requested to purchase non-animal ones with the money given by a person who himself/herself does not use wool for ethical reasons.

Human Imposition
A separate point, but one which is of paramount importance, is that of animal consent. We do not take their consent for any of our interactions with them. Their answer to the question of willingness of participation should, however, be obvious from their physical struggles in resisting the treatment and their tendency of flight in situations where they suspect impending human intrusion. Not even the most artful of persons engaged in any activity dealing with animals would argue that the animal would willingly subject itself to the treatment if it had a choice. Their distaste of human treatment is obvious: the cow does not give us milk, we take it from her; the bees don’t make honey for us, we steal it from them. If we needed protection from the elements, nature would have provided us with a woolly skin we wouldn’t have to cut it off the sheep.

It would not be out of place to mention here that Jain monks use a brush/broom made of wool called katashna/ogha which was in olden times made from the shed wool of sheep. Today the origin of this wool is totally different yet it continues to be used. If the monks knew the facts, BWC feels they would find an alternative.

Specially Bred and Tortured
India has the 3rd largest number of sheep in the world. As per the 20th Livestock Census of 2019 there are 74.26 million sheep consisting of 42 breeds – an increase of 14.1% increase from the previous census of 2012.

Sheep were one of the first animals to be subjected to cross breeding and now genetic manipulation for production of more and more wool. In 1977 Raymond Ltd was the first to introduce Embryo Transfer Technology in India at its sheep breeding farm at Dhule in Maharashtra.

In 2015 India was the 7th largest producer of wool and contributed 1.8% towards the total world production. However, 85% of this was carpet grade and only 5% apparel grade. 44% wool was derived from Rajasthan, 13% from Jammu & Kashmir, 12% from Karnataka, and 23% from Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Haryana. Since Rajasthan ranks first in wool production, the Animal Husbandry department proudly considers it as one of its “strengths”.

The Union Ministry of Textiles 2018-19 states that the average annual yield per sheep in India was 0.9 kg as against the world average of 2.4 kgs. The country produced 40.42 million kgs of wool that year whereas its consumption in 2019-20 was 260.8 million kgs.

In 2019, a member of the Gadaria or Pal community which rear sheep and goats for wool, meat and milk gave an interview to a journalist. He said that 4 years ago wool was selling at Rs 30/- per kg – each sheep which was sheared thrice a year yielded about 3 kgs annually – but since blanket makers of Panipat had switched to imported wool or synthetic material from China. So they only earned from sale of meat.

This was the reason why between December 2019 and February 2020 in order to reduce wool imports, 840 Australian Merino sheep were imported under the National Livestock Mission for crossbreeding. Jammu & Kashmir received 420, Uttarakhand 240, and Himachal Pradesh 200 sheep. India had not imported sheep since 1993 when Rambouillet sheep from US were imported again for crossbreeding however the outcome was low survival rates.

In 2013 the Jammu & Kashmir state government set up a separate department for sheep husbandry. Incentives were offered by the state and centre to set up mini-farms to meet demands for wool, meat and milk, thus bringing down bulk imports of sheep from neighbouring states. Bad enough, but worse still, the government introduced artificial insemination and cross breeding to increase produce. However, in 2021 the Jammu & Kashmir Sheep Development Board was disbanded because “there had been no significant ground impact on production and marketing of wool and wool-based products”.

Global wool production is approximately 2 million tonnes per year of which 60% goes into apparel. Australia, China and New Zealand supply 54% of the world’s wool. Australian Merino sheep are specially bred to have wrinkly skin resulting in extra wool production but often causing death due to heat. In order to keep the animals free of flies and infection, lambs’ tails are docked and huge strips of flesh removed from their rumps called mulesing. Shearers work very fast and nick animals often. When wool output lessens, the animals are shipped live to the Middle East for slaughter. In tightly packed conditions for up to a month, those that survive the nightmare of wallowing in their own wastes, suffer injuries, sea-sickness, diseases, and many become blind due to a build-up of ammonia as a result of poor ventilation. Those born en route are of course trampled to death.

To give an incentive to breeders to create high-quality wools, Ermenegildo Zegna, an international luxury menswear brand, announced its first wool trophy way back in 1963. The Ermenegildo Zegna Vellus Aureum Trophy of 2001 admits to its finals only those fleeces under 13.9 microns from the top Merino producers. The annual contest draws considerable participation from the four biggest wool-producing countries: Australia, New Zealand, Argentine and South Africa. The best fleeces (no more than 50) entered in the competition are acquired by the company and processed at their wool mill in Trivero, Italy.

Wool not a By-product
Sheep in India also contribute to our wool consumption. Sheared regularly, long before their natural life span, when they no longer produce sufficient wool to be economical, they are sent off for slaughter. It is but obvious that the meat industry is as dependant on the wool industry as it is vice versa. Just like when cattle are sold to butchers, the value of the leather is considered; when sheep are sold the fleece is paid for. This clearly proves that the animals are killed for their meat and wool. Wool is not a by-product of the mutton trade.

As it is possible to extract wool from sheep without killing them, the use of wool has been considered with some leniency when compared to leather and fur. However, this is not to say that its use is encouraged in any way, in fact it is discouraged by Beauty Without Cruelty particularly as the hair that is removed from the raw hides while processing goes into making kambals/blankets and other woollen products which proves that in India not all wool is obtained through shearing sheep.

BWC does not know the exact reason why almost all retailers and premium fashion brands (like Lilliput, Woodland, Pantaloons, ITC Lifestyle and Spencer’s Retail) sold their woollen winter-wear at discounts up to 50% during the peak of winter 2010 onwards, but it certainly points to a drop in demand for animal wool.

Over a dozen suiting brands have as good as disappeared and that many more are struggling to survive with the price of wool having increased by 60% from 2008 to 2012. The share of suiting materials in India’s apparel market was 3.16% (Rs 5,000 crore). The PV (poly-viscose) segment covered 70% (Rs 3,500 crore) and was dominated by Siyaram; whereas the worsted suiting covered 30% (Rs 1,500 crore) and was mainly Raymond. Interestingly, 75% of suiting sold was tailored as trousers, not entire suits.

However, there are companies in Ludhiana (India’s wool capital) that produce premium, blended, woollen products for luxury brands and private labels abroad.

In 2016 our woollen industry was in distress with demand falling and price of raw wool increasing. India is very much dependent upon import of better quality wool from Australia where farmers are losing interest in sheep rearing, but the unrest in Kashmir from where demand for making high-quality products came was hampered thus affecting import of wool.

However, a bit of good news from our point of view is that woollen mills such as Oswal and Raymond had begun blending man-made fibres such as polyester and acrylic and launching innovative woollen fabrics. BWC hopes they will soon promote 100% man-made fibres with no percentage of animal derived wool. (Meanwhile, Oswal Woollen Mills’ Nahar group company Monte Carlo Fashions instead of increasing revenues of their cotton segment, has unfortunately forayed into leather jackets and footwear.)

According to the Wool & Woollen Export Promotion Council, exports of woollen yarn, fabric and made-ups had declined 48% and woollen garments by 9% in the first quarter of 2016.

By 2018 rural Australian sheep farmers discovered that there weren’t enough shearers. Meanwhile the price for very fine wool used for clothing (90% of which is Australian) hit a record high largely due to high demand from Chinese garment makers.

Similar problems are faced in India where the next generation does not want to do the work of shearing sheep, not even with machines. For one, they are expensive and two, they can as well focus on some other agricultural activity. Another significant problem faced by shepherds is fast shrinking grazing lands in every state.

Wool and Woollen Fabrics
The term Worsted refers to fabrics that contain wool. Most products that contain new wool carry the Wool mark logo, widely recognised as a symbol of 100% wool content. Wool mark blend and Wool blend are other logos used. They are similar to Wool mark, but the wool content is lower. Wool is used in knitwear, garments, headgear, shawls, stoles, gloves, blankets, wall-hangings, carpets, upholstery, insulation, stuffing for baseballs, covers for tennis balls and pool table baize.

Alpaca/Llama/Guanaco wools are of South American camelids. Alpacas farmed in Austria are shorn every spring. Zibeline can be made from alpaca wool.

Angora can be the hair of the Angora goat called Mohair or the fine light hair of the Angora rabbit blended with wool in fabrics. This hair/fur taken off from the pelts of slaughtered Angora rabbits is used in the making of Angora wool items. Therefore Angora wool of rabbit is actually rabbit fur. Zibeline can be made from mohair.

Astrakhan: Wavy fur made from wool of young lambs.

Camel hair in woollen fabrics: Woollen fabrics manufactured by many well-known companies have been found to be mixed with camel hair.

Cashmere: Fine downy wool growing beneath the outer hair of the Kashmir goat. As it is extremely delicate it needs to be hand-spun. Changapas are trans-Himalayan nomads who rear the Changthangi goat which are sheared for their cashmere wool in early spring. It is similar to Pashmina wool. Mongolian cashmere is supposed to be the finest and softest. Weganool (see below) is an alternative to Cashmere.

Chiengora/dog hair:
The word is a portmanteau of “chien” (French for dog) and the word angora (for wool). Yarn or wool spun from dog hair, is similar in appearance to Angora, furry and soft.

Costwold: coarse type of wool derived from Costwold sheep.

Felt: A fabric made of matted and compressed animal hair such as wool or animal fur which could sometimes be mixed with vegetable or non-animal fibres. Felt made without animal hair is also available.

Flannel: A soft woven cloth of wool or a blend of wool and cotton or non-animal fibres.

Flannelette: A cotton cloth processed to resemble flannel.

Gabardine: A twilled cloth made of wool; could also contain cotton or rayon.

Ghazni wool: A trade term indicating that the wool was over a foot long when shorn off the sheep, has a long staple, grainy texture and is thick but not wavy. (Ghazni is a breed of sheep but Ghazni wool may not have always originated from this breed.)

Ghongri/Ghongadi: A jute-like fabric woven from goat hair used by local people at hill stations as a blanket cum raincoat. These blankets are spun on pit looms and dyed by the Dhangard or traditional sheep rears of Maharashtra.

Greasy wool: Untreated or raw wool from which lanolin has not been extracted. Used for waterproof clothing.

Kambal/Ghongadi: A desi handloom blanket made from wool of sheep.

Light-weight wool: Developed to tap the insulating properties of wool, it could have a denim finish for use in summer. Blends of wrinkle resistant wool and cotton jackets are about 35% lighter in weight and are promoted as cool wool to be worn in summer – no doubt, a desperate measure to sell wool. Meanwhile, experiments mixing wool, cotton and linen continue.

Merino: soft fine wool derived from Merino sheep.

Pashm-e-shahi: High quality pashmina wool produced from domestic goats by the Kashmir Handmade Pashmina Promotion Trust and claimed to be an alternative to shahtoosh. Noori, a cloned pashmina goat was produced at Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences & Technology, Alastang, near Srinagar in March 2012. She was a grandmother at the time of her death in March 2023.

Pashmina: Wool from a particular breed of goat, to obtain which, the goats could have been killed for “real” Pashmina. Quite often Cashmere wool derived from different species of domesticated goats is passed off as Pashmina. This is because hardly 100 to 200 grams of fine wool is available per pashmina/changthang (of Leh)/chegu (of Himachal) goat when shed during spring and combed (combing is a technique that produces cleaner, finer, stronger and more lustrous fibres as compared to the carding technique, and is generally used for worsted threads) by nomads in the Himalayas for supplying the wool to Kashmiri weavers of shawls who quite often mix the wool with silk.

production in India is 50 tonnes per year and accounts for less than 1% of the global production. Although only a part of the wool utilised is from Ladakh and most of it is imported from Mangolia, the Government of India declared that the Geographical Indication (GI) label or tag can be used on all pashmina woollen goods made in Kashmir. (GI tagged materials can only be marked and sold under the names if manufactured in specified regions. If not, according to the Act, products manufactured else where and marked as such could attract a fine of up to Rs 2 lakhs and imprisonment up to 3 years or both.) As handmade shawls, stoles, scarves, etc. made from the wool of the pashmina goat originated in Kashmir over 600 years ago, the artisans demanded this exclusive intellectual property right. Then in August 2013, the Pashmina Testing and Quality Certification Centre’s Rs 4.40 crore initiative to combat machine-made fake pashmina products by micro-chipping genuine ones was started.

Pashmina is more delicate than cashmere having a low micron count: fibres just about 15-19 microns in diameter (thinner than human hair) and therefore needs to be definitely spun by hand, resulting in visible irregularities in the weave. The label declaring it is pashmina is stitched onto the shawl. Those that have stickers on them are supposedly fake pashmina, but wool nevertheless, maybe a mix of Cashmere fibres that has been machine woven.

Genetic manipulation and research under a 9.43 crore project funded by the World Bank to boost production of Kashmir’s famous Pashmina shawl involves obtaining an embryo from a high-yielding Pashmina goat and after culturing, transferring to a recipient animal for cloning. It was hoped that productivity of wool per animal would go up to 750 to 1000 grams per year from the current out put of 250 grams from Changthang and 100 grams from Chegu varieties of Pashmina goats.

In 2011 the Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agriculture Sciences and Technology (SKUAST) provided spinning wheels to 100 women in the Valley. Kashmir’s Pashmina shawl industry is dependent upon 1.6 lakh goats found in Nyoma block in Ladakh, but under the SKUAST project goats will be reared at non-traditional areas of Nobra, Drass, Panikher, and Bod Kharboo areas which have similar climatic conditions for them to flourish.

Snowfall in Changthang, Ladakh, in winter 2012 was the worst in 50 years. Harsh climatic conditions earlier in the year had also caused a shortage of fodder, as a result of which over 18,000 Pashmina goats died.

Two years after the Government of India launched in 2014 the Pashmina Promotion Programme for improving quality and quantity of Pashmina wool as well as living standards of poor nomads of Ladakh, the average yield of Pashmina wool rose by 9.30%. A dehairing plant was imported along with other latest machines for scouring, drying and boiling which were installed at a newly constructed building at Leh.

In November 2019 the Government of India announced that the Tribal Cooperative Marketing Development Federation of India would acquire Rs 1 crore worth of pashmina products, apricots and herbs like seabuckthorn from Ladakh to sell at 107 tribal outlets across India.

moulted/shed wool of muskox (of Canada and Alaska), not sheared.

Ragg wool is wool blended with about 15% nylon. The yarn is used for making rough items like gloves.

Shahmina: Developed to replace shahtoosh, this wool is taken from baby cashmere goats.

Shah-mina: Shawls made from a mixture of shahtoosh/chiru and pashmina wools is a new trend that has surfaced.

Shahtoosh/Toosh: This is the wool from the Tibetan antelope or chiru, a migratory animal once found in large numbers in Ladhakh. To produce an asli toosh shawl (2x1 metre) weighing 100 grams (costing over Rs 1 lakh) requires 300-400 grams of wool for which the lives of about three to four chiru are taken. They are trapped and killed because the animals’ under-wool (fine and long fur on the under-side) is utilised. The trade in shahtoosh is banned but it continues on the Indo-China border as a barter of two bags of wool against one bag of tiger bones. Private dealers and government emporiums have been known to sell shahtoosh shawls and scarves under the seal of “handloom”. Shahtoosh also originates in Jammu & Kashmir and shawls are found with a number of persons in the state and other parts of India. The fact remains that endangered animals are killed to make this product and their numbers are declining rapidly with no less than 20,000 being poached annually. The trade had been illegal from 1972 when the species was protected and definitely from May 2002 when the official ban came into force in J&K. In 1975 the global shatoosh trade was banned under the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species). The species can not be farmed and even if it could, the wool would bear no likeness to that produced on high-altitude pastures. In January 2013 the Nepal Police seized 46 sacks (1,150 kgs) of Tibetan antelope fur being smuggled from China’s Tibet to India. A month later India arrested two Nepalese and a Tibetan for smuggling 29 sacks (400 kgs) containing chiru fur. The barter system also occurs along the Indo-Nepal-Tibet border villages and the main item is shahtoosh. Other wildlife items like tiger bones and yatcha gumbo (caterpillar fungus used as Chinese medicine) are also bartered for traditional Chinese medicine. It has been reliably learnt that shahtoosh shawls are woven in Nepal by Kashmiri families who shift there for a couple of months for this purpose.

A lightweight wool or worsted twill fabric used chiefly for coat linings.

Shatnez: The Torah (Jewish law) prohibits the use of this fabric since it is 56% wool and 44% linen – a mixture of animal and plant known as kilayim.

Sheep pelt with fleece left on.

Shoddy wool: Fibres obtained (for recycling) by shredding woollen garments.

Spiber: Spider silk protein brewed to create proteins that form cashmere wool and silk. (Spider silk is composed of fibres secreted by glands in the abdomen of spiders: the liquid protein that passes through the spider’s spinning organs comes out dry from the abdomen like a thread.) In 2021 this Japanese company Spiber began using its $314 funding to create “a global sustainable materials market that relies on microbial fermentation rather than animal products to make wool, silk and leather”. However, since spiders are also living creatures their vegan claim is false.

“Synthetic” Wool is made of acrylic or viscose fibre which is like rayon of wood origin. It is superior to actual wool in all ways — durability, comfort, affordability. Acetate/Natural Acetate filament is a man-made cellulose derived fibre/yarn produced from wood pulp. The filament is used in broad and luxurious range of woven and knit fashion fabrics in place of wool and silk too. Knitting and Crochet can be done with wool (animal and acrylic), silk, cotton and other yarns. Synthetic wool for knitting is labelled “100% acrylic fibre”. Some of the brand names for this fibre are Cashmillon, Indacryl, Acrylon, Orlon and Supacryl.

Tweed: A coarse woollen cloth made in a twill weave, mainly used for suits and coats. Corduroy made from cotton is a good alternative during winter.

Vicuña wool is the most expensive in the world and for which millions of vicuñas have been killed in South America. Vicuña products were therefore banned by several countries, but now that their population has risen in Peru, the wool is commercially available. Found in exorbitantly expensive suit lengths, woven with other fibres, a vicuña is first sheared by villagers when it is two years old and every two years thereafter. Each time the animal is sheared it yields only 7 to 8 ounces of fine, soft fleece. Suiting material manufactured by the world’s most prestigious cloth weavers, Holland & Sherry (Scotland) called Vicuña Alymra is now retailed in India by Digjam Ltd at Rupees 7.50 lakhs per metre. A suit length which comes in the natural colour of the fleece (shades of gold) costs Rupees 30 lakhs, making it a rare and most expensive apparel fabric of the world.

Water, oil, soil and stain-resistant wool:
Minor food and other stains can be easily removed by dabbing water. Originally repellent finishes were coated with paraffin or wax which eventually washed off. Nowadays, perfluorochemicals are used to protect fabrics. Some finishes claim to be eco-friendly but that does not mean they or the fabric is not of animal origin.

Weaner fleece is wool shorn for the first time from young sheep, and is at least 50 mm long.

An alternative to Cashmere, it consists of 70% organic cotton and 30% Calotropis plant which is commonly known as milkweed or eruku in Tamil (it grows abundantly in the dry wastelands).

Wool Tops: After raw wool is washed, combed and sorted, the longer fibres ready for spinning are called wool tops.

Wrinkle-resistant wool:
In order to create fabric that is wrinkle-resistant, resins are used which may not be formaldehyde (a carcinogen) but release tiny amounts of the chemical that can be harmful over time.

Yak wool/Bhootla
is the under-fur or down of the yak which is similar to cashmere or pashmina goat wool, and is fine, shiny, soft, light and warmer than merino wool. The rest of the yak’s wool is shaggy and is used for making tents.

Zibeline: A heavy but soft fabric usually made of mohair (rabbit) or alpaca wool. It can also be made from the hair of camels and sable, and silk worm fibre in a twill weave.

Test to Determine Animal or Synthetic Wool
To check if the wool is synthetic, rub the fabric between your hands. Synthetic fabrics create static electricity when rubbed together.

Another way of ascertaining is to do a thread burn test. A few threads from warp and few from weft need to be removed and burnt by firmly holding them between tweezers. To know how animal wool would smell when burnt, first burn some fallen hair in the same way. Observe carefully and compare. When it stops burning, a very tiny (pin-head size) ash ball will be left behind. Rub it between your fingers and smell the powdered ash. The smell of burnt hair, wool, silk and leather is identical, and the slow way in which it burns forming an ash ball, will also be the same.

If the fibre is cotton or rayon, it will quickly flare up in flames and will not form an ash ball, nor will it smell like burnt hair. If it is a petroleum product like nylon or polyester, it will burn forming a tiny, hard, glass-like bead.

Also, if upon inspection the fabric has pilings (tiny balls of fibre on surface) it is animal origin wool, although this occurs only after use.

Blankets, Shawls and Stoles

There isn’t much difference between blankets and rugs. They not only look similar but can very well contain wool and/or fur.

/Blankets: Hair that is removed from raw hides of sheep goes into making them.

Nepali Blankets:
Yak hair (some times sheep) is utilised for the making of these blankets.

Duvet covers:
Bags filled with wool or feathers and used as quilts.

Mink/Fur blankets:
They can be faux fur or animal fur such as that of mink, chinchilla, fox, rabbits, etc. Even if faux fur, they may have a woollen (e.g. cashmere) lining.

Fleece blankets:
They are made of lightweight polyester.

Sherpa/Mink Korean blankets and bedspreads:
They are made of soft fleece, a velvety smooth fabric, reminiscent of mink fur.

Traditionally a summer blanket made of 3 layers of special type of cotton called muslin.

blankets: Jaipuri razai is the art of quilt making. Traditionally made using hand spun cotton as the fabric shell with carded cotton as filling.

Cotton blankets:
Obviously made of cotton.

In addition to blankets, shawls (usually 80 x 40 inches for women and 96 x 48 inches for men) and stoles (80 x 28 inches) are the most commonly used woollen items in India. There are designer, plain, fringe, sequence, paisley, lace, checked, beaded, fancy, and embroidered shawls. Some are made for special requirements and occasions, like prayer, meditation, summer, bridal, wedding, and evening shawls.

Acrylic and Viscose shawls: Look like wool but are made from non-animal 100% acrylic wool / viscose. However, they could be a mix of acrylic and viscose. Lycra (elastane – a synthetic fibre) and cotton could be blended, as also animal wool and silk, along with the acrylic or viscose fibre.

Cotton shawls: Easily available in colourful and varied weaves (thicknesses), prints and with embroidery too, these shawls are perfect for mild winters.

Jacquard shawls: The shawls are woven on a particular loom and are usually made of 100% Pashmina wool.

Jamawar shawls: Jamawar is an ancient Persian paisley motif shawl pattern using the kani technique of weaving. The wool used is Cashmere, however, a little cotton is mixed with it when weaving; brocade patches on them could be in Pashmina and/or silk. The crimson dye used to colour traditional woollen Jamawar shawls, is from cochineal insects – 70,000 insects are killed to produce 500 grams dye. (These shawls are considered heirlooms and given their price in lakhs, the lure of money has made an animal welfare organisation exhibit them… it is very sad that people forget sheep are also animals.)

Kashmiri Pashmina shawls: These are usually made from a blend of Pashmina and Angora wool or silk. As stated above, pashmina from Kashmir carries the GI tag.

Kullu shawls: The government has granted the GI tag to shawls made in Kullu, Himachal Pradesh, from wool from the region.

Prayer shawls
: These are usually 100% Cashmere wool and dyed white.

Ring shawls: It is said that a Kashmiri Pashmina shawl is made of such fine wool that it can pass through a wedding ring. Shetland lace pattern knitted shawls from the fine fleece taken off a sheep’s neck also claim to pass through finger rings.

Silk shawls: In 100% silk and in different weaves and print designs, these shawls some times have cut-work.

Velvet stoles, scarves and dupattas: These are silk, cotton, rayon or synthetic.

Wangkhei Phee shawls: The GI label was awarded to these shawls from Manipur. They are hand-woven in fine cotton.


Carpets, tapestries, and other items use large quantities of wool. In India the natural fibre carpets are wool, silk, chenille, cotton, seagrass, jute, coir, bamboo, sisal/cord, whereas the synthetic fibre ones are made of nylon, polypropylene (olefin), polyester and acrylic. Carpet weaving, picked up from Persia, Turkmenistan, Mongolia and China, is no longer isolated in Indian towns and villages and today a number of weaves, styles, fibres, fabrics and finishes are produced and also exported. However, carpets can be broadly categorised as Persian, Oriental and Western and the majority are made from wool either handmade or machine made.

Bhadohi, Mirzapur, and Varanasi with their 2.5 million artisans, support the largest hand-loom carpet industry in the world and in fact 90% of Indian carpets are produced in this region. The belt is known for fashion oriented, hand-tufted, Indo-Tibetan carpets and is influenced by Buddhist patterns. Traditional woollen carpets and durries also come from this area. Agra, also in Uttar Pradesh, is known for using vegetable dyes in their Persian style carpets which have floral boarders and bold patterns, but mainly woollen nevertheless.

Based on Persian origin designs, Kashmir produces oriental carpets & rugs and is famous for hand-knotted woollen and especially silk carpets. Kashmir made namdas, gabbas and hook-rugs are available.

Amritsar produces the fusion style of Persian-Indian carpets and the Mouri geometrical patterns are their speciality. They also make embossed carpets based on Chinese designs. Most of their carpets are exported. Jaipur is another centre for carpet weaving in geometric patterns and is known for innovative designs.

Durries mainly come from Haryana & Punjab (geometric patterns), Karnataka (Navalgund and Jamkhans depicting parrots and peacocks), Tamil Nadu, Orissa & Andhra Pradesh (Ikkat patterns). And pile carpets can be found in typical styles of different States.


Interestingly, the youngsters of the marginalised communities that made a living by hand-stitching leather mojadis in Rajasthan have switched to weaving carpets and rugs. Wool is less hinsak than leather, but hinsak nevertheless. Here superior carpet grade Chokla and Magra wool is produced.

The purpose of listing the different types of carpets etc. available in India is to draw the attention of the reader to the very large extent of wool being utilised by the industry. As stated, most of the production utilises wool, and in comparison hardly any non-animal fibres are utilised. Export statistics from the Carpet Export Promotion Council state that Rs 3233.27 crores worth of handmade woollen carpets, rugs, druggets, durries, etc. including some cotton carpets were exported in 2007-08, whereas during the same period, Rs 221.87 crores worth of silk carpets and only Rs 69.59 crores worth of staple/synthetic carpets were exported from India.

It is a pity that without giving a thought to sheep, a leading organisation working for animals together with the Fashion Design Council of India sells works of famous artists woven into carpets.

Child labour is a long standing issue in the carpet industry, similar to the silk industry, giving rise to another good reason not to buy/use woollen carpets. Four labels or marks address the issue of child labour together with the well being of the carpet workers: Rugmark, Kaleen, Step and Care & Fair.

Products of Sheep Husbandry
Meat from sheep is called mutton, whereas lamb is the flesh of a sheep that is less than a year old.

is carried out on sheep to study disease and perfect surgical techniques. They are also used in stem cell research. Their blood is utilised for culturing bacteria and to produce pharmaceuticals. So much so that sheep are specially raised for bleeding. Dolly, the sheep was the first mammal to be cloned. Cross-species experiments involve sheep and mice and so-called scientists plan on using sheep as potential organ donors for humans. Transgenic sheep are used as research models, test kits or for pharming, i.e. the production of pharmaceutical human proteins in transgenic farm animals.

Easy Care is a British breed of sheep that was developed by a farmer in 1965 by crossing the Wiltshire Horn with other breeds so that minimal shepherding and veterinary care was needed. The sheep shed their wool in summer and do not require to be sheared. Prince Charles has rightly felt it is the “ultimate horror” – after all the sheep are freaks, cross-bred for human convenience.

intestines are not only made into sutures, but also musical instrument strings and lambskin condoms are from lamb intestines.

Degras is a fatty substance obtained by pressing certain sheep skins following the action of oxidized fish oil on them and used in dressing leather – called Moellon or Sod Oil (also used for making soaps). A mixture of this substance with other fats or fatty oils is some times called wool grease.

Wool oil
is liquid, Wool Grease is semi-solid, and Wool Fat is solid, whereas Wool Wax can be moulded when warm but hardens and can be brittle when cool.

Lanolin, also called Anhydrous Wool Fat, Wax or Grease is a yellow substance secreted from the sebaceous glands of wool-bearing animals and is extracted from freshly shorn wool by squeezing it between rollers prior to it being processed. The wool from one Merino sheep produces about 250-300 ml of wool grease. It is an emollient and emulsifier with waterproofing properties, mainly used in pharmaceutical ointments, cosmetics, toiletries, shoe polishes, softeners, lubricants, textiles, rust-preventive coatings and for cleaning percussion instrument drumheads. Also used in adhesive tape, printing inks and motor oils.

Hydrogenated castor oil
has a similar consistency to lanolin and is considered the best alternative. Cupuaçu Butter and Shea Butter are also non-animal alternatives to lanolin. Both these butters derived from trees are mainly for topical use, although they are edible.

Page last updated on 23/05/23