Yes and no. Chenille is vegan when it is made from cotton or synthetic yarns (which is most of the time). However, if the yarn is mixed with wool or silk, then it cannot be described as being vegan.
What is chenille?
Chenille is the name given to both a yarn and the fabric made from it. The name is derived from the French for ‘caterpillar.’ This may cause some initial concern amongst vegans; however, the name comes from the fact that the yarn is fuzzy and resembles a caterpillar, rather than any involvement of caterpillars in the manufacturing process!
Chenille was first used in France in the 1700s. It has a unique look and is known for its softness, strength, and versatility, making it an excellent alternative to merino wool. It can be made from cotton, rayon, wool, or silk.
How is chenille made?
Chenille’s unique look comes from the way it is made. Short lengths of yarn, called piles, are wrapped around a core piece of yarn. This leads to the piles sticking up at a right angle to the core yarn. This is what makes chenille yarn ‘fuzzy’ and gives it an iridescent sheen – the fabric looks different depending on the angle you are looking from.
Is chenille sustainable?
Chenille’s sustainability depends upon the materials used to create it:
If silk is involved, then the answer is a clear no. Silk farming, aside from not being vegan, is also one of the most damaging and destructive processes used to create fabric. Chemicals used during the silk cleaning process contribute to ground-water pollution, and the mulberry bush, an essential part of the silk-farming process, is an invasive species and can cause problems with the local ecology. Aside from this, it uses vast quantities of water, which could have an impact on the surrounding flora and fauna.
In most cases, however, cotton will be used. Cotton is considered a far better material, but if it is not organic, then you can expect large amounts of both pesticides and water to be used in the cultivation process. Additionally, non-organic cotton is not biodegradable due to the chemicals and dyes involved.
Rayon, even though it comes from a renewable source, is still not considered to be sustainable due to the toxic nature of its production and links to deforestation. This is particularly the case for viscose and modal rayon – lyocell rayon is slightly more sustainable.
Verdict: Is Chenille Vegan? Should Vegans Buy Chenille?
Chenille is vegan safe when made out of cotton or synthetic fibers, but not if silk and wool are used (always check the label). Ideally, look for a brand that uses organic cotton or lyocell rayon to ensure that the product you are buying is sustainable.