PETA is controversial. On that, at least, we can all agree. As an organization, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is divisive – even amongst the plant-based community. Not so much for its mission, which is another thing I’m pretty sure we can agree on, but for its somewhat sensationalist – though still often successful – methods.
Sometimes, though, the old ways work best: carrot, rather than stick. To that end, PETA is taking a more traditional route, launching a plant-based materials challenge: a competition with a $1,000,000 USD prize for the first entrant to develop a “vegan wool material that’s visually, texturally, and functionally akin or superior to sheep’s wool.”
Now, given the more-or-less constant advancement in plant-based materials – innovations like PIÑATEX® and EPHEA™, for example – the creation of a convincing wool substitute doesn’t seem unlikely. There is, however, a catch: in order to collect their prize, the creator – or creators – will have to do more than just develop the product. They’ll also have to have that product “adopted and sold by a major clothing brand.”
And therein lies the rub: material innovation is one thing – a noble and necessary pursuit, for sure, but close to futile without a change in attitudes followed by actual, large-scale adoption. So, in an unusually wholistic approach, the PETA $1 Million Vegan Wool Challenge Award is an effort not just to “protect sheep,” as one might naturally expect from this particular organization, but also, “[to] push fashion forward, and help stop the environmental degradation caused by animal agriculture.”
Still, even the creation of a like-for-like wool replacement isn’t going to be easy: PETA’s standards are – given the original material’s pretty amazing natural properties – justifiably high. The proposed “bio-based natural fiber or bioengineered fiber with 100% traceable inputs,” should, “neutralize odor, retain body temperature, and wick away moisture,” just like the real deal.
And, if any prospective producer does meet those targets – and, of course, we’re hoping that they do – PETA’s definition of a major clothing brand is also pretty uncompromizing: not just a nod from a recognizable name, but a commitment from “at least one of the top 10 global retail brands” to sell the product in the US market.
But $1 Million USD and the accolade of creating a product that might just move the dial away from animal-based wool for good are pretty strong incentives. So, here’s hoping.
Photo by Temo Berishvili