Not many people understand the objection to using or wearing wool. Least of all in the knitting community, in which I have recently become immersed.
I've gone into knitting shops, and mentioned that I wanted non-woollen yarn (or, on my first visit, green and naive 'do you have any wool that doesn't have any, um, wool in it?'), to be looked at with pity, incredulity and confusion - and then the sales assistant patronisingly says to me 'they don't kill the animals to get it, you know'. Sigh. It's too much of an effort to explain, so I just smile calmly and carry on perusing the cotton/bamboo/acrylic section.
It's a subject I've given a lot of thought to, and not just since taking up knitting with a fervour. When I first went vegan, I was mentally confounded by all the ethical implications of wearing wool, silk, leather, etc - so I decided on a course of action: I would not wear any of the aforementioned materials, new or second-hand (excepting stuff I already owned - my 'pre-gan' things), in order to clarify the situation, both for myself and other well-meaning gift-givers. I think this was a good idea, because from this point of absolutely no compromise, I was able to properly consider the issues at stake, and the way I felt about them. Many vegans will not wear these materials second-hand despite the ethical problem having been removed, because they feel it 'advertises' that product as attractive and acceptable for wear - and for the most part I do agree with this, certainly when it comes to leather. But in actual fact it's probably more ethical to wear second-hand leather than it is to buy new non-leather shoes made from either non-organic cotton or oil-derived plastics.
I digress. Wool is the main subject of my post, and largely relating to knitting. At first I stuck to acrylic and cotton yarn, lamenting inwardly at my limited range and gazing lustfully at the stunning range of textures and colours available to those who use animal fibres. It's not that I desperately want to use wool - rather like lamenting the lack of choice for an evening meal in a restaurant doesn't mean that I secretly wish I could eat meat - because I don't really like it all that much. I generally find it sweaty, smelly, itchy and a bit greasy. There's no getting away from the fact that there's nothing like it for warmth, though! I am just annoyed that there isn't a better range for those of us who don't use it. And it's not just vegans either - many people are allergic to animal fibres. Eventually I had the idea that if I were to buy it second-hand, it would probably not be too bad. So I began to trawl ebay... and here I went a little mad. After (rather more than) several purchases online from other knitters' destashings, I came to my senses. Again I berated myself over the ethics of the thing and yo-yo'd back and forth from 'well, having second-hand wool isn't really unethical', to 'no, but you shouldn't use it, it's just not vegan!'.
After Christmas, in my pauperly state, I implemented my new 'yarn rules' in order to control my spending and burgeoning stash:
1. Yarn will only be purchased second hand, from charity shops and NOT on ebay.
2. Unless I am buying for a specific project, which must already have been planned!
Shortly after that, I discovered the joy of unravelling, and largely thanks to this I have more or less stuck to the rules. As long as buying sweaters in charity shops to harvest yarn from falls within the remit of the first rule! The issue still haunted me though, as I unravelled my cashmere, silk, merino, etc sweaters, purchased at absurdly cheap prices. I decided that it was ok to knit with wool, but I probably oughtn't to wear it myself - but then isn't that just being hypocritical? Like it would be ok for me to make a toasted cheese sandwich just for the pleasure of it, as long as I don't eat it myself.
This is getting to be rather an unruly post, so I should get to the point and wrap it up. The rambling length of it does reflect my feelings on the subject accurately though!
So my recent conclusion. I have decided to stop worrying about it. My original reason for being vegan, before I even called myself vegan, was to lead an ethical life, to not consume products that caused harm to other things. Is it harming anything to use yarn from an old, abandoned woollen sweater? No. Henceforth, I've decided to give myself a break and just use it. If all I'm really worried about in using second-hand wool is the criticism of others who may point fingers and tell me I'm not vegan enough, or some such foolishness, then that really is just vanity - and frankly, those people can go and take a flying leap, because who are they to judge my choices?