Nov 22, 2022
by Karl Smith
PETA Is Offering $1 Million USD For a Superior Vegan Wool
by Karl Smith
Nov 22, 2022

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