Yes, fleece and microfleece are vegan. It is not animal-derived and is considered suitable for anyone living a vegan lifestyle. Because of this, it is a popular alternative to wool for vegans. It is made of polyester, a plastic, which means it can be produced without causing cruel, unethical, or inhumane treatment of animals.
However, although it can be made from recycled plastic bottles, it is no longer considered sustainable because it releases microfibers when washed. These tiny bits of plastic (smaller than a hair) enter the environment and can hurt animals. For this reason, some vegans choose not to buy fleece or microfleece.
What is Fleece?
Fleece is a synthetic fabric made from polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, fibers. Microfleece is a term is sometimes used to refer to the thinnest types of fleeces, although often the two terms are used interchangeably.
Fleece and microfleece are often referred to as polyester when used in clothing, and is the same type of plastic as that used to make many plastic bottles. Because polyester is a type of plastic, it is vegan. The confusion stems from the name, but although it might be named after a sheep’s fleece, and even look and feel a bit like it, there is no relation and no wool is used when producing it.
However, watch out for fleeces that are blended with other materials. This might mean the manufacturer has added rayon (vegan), cotton (vegan), wool (not vegan), or another material to the mix. Most often, this will be cotton (often referred to as “cotton fleece”), and the label should say what the fleece is blended with. Ask the manufacturer if you are unsure if the blend contains wool or another non-vegan material.
How is Fleece Made?
Fleece is made from polyester, a plastic which is itself made from two derivatives of petroleum – terephthalic acid and ethylene glycol (antifreeze). When combined at an extremely high temperature, these two materials form PET. A tool called a spinneret is used to create fibers from the PET by forcing the plastic through very small holes. These fibers are then spun into yarn to be used for making clothing and other fleece products. Often, further chemicals are added to enhance the fiber by improving its water resistance.
Is Fleece Sustainable?
Fleece might be vegan, but it isn’t a sustainable fabric because it is made from non-renewable petroleum derivatives. Some fleece clothes are made out of eco-fleece, which means that the fabric has been made using recycled PET bottles (the type you might drink soda from), also known as rPET.
rPET is better, because it doesn’t require any additional petroleum to make, and requires less energy and water creating PET from scratch. This means fewer materials go to landfill and less energy used. However, there are still two problems with this. One is that reusing the PET only delays those products going to landfill – fleece is not easily recyclable and so people are forced to trash it after it has worn out (and fleece does not biodegrade). Secondly, the majority of fleece products are still created new, instead of from recycled materials.
Additionally, polyester fleece sheds thousands of synthetic microfibers with each wash. These tiny synthetic fibres enter our wastewater and from there make their way into rivers and seas (many microfibers are too small for wastewater treatment plants to filter out). Once in our water system, these small plastics are consumed by animals. They contribute to pollution and hurt both fish and any animal who eats them by affecting their ability to eat and their ability to reproduce.
Verdict: Should Vegans Buy Fleece?
Although fleece and microfleece are vegan materials in the sense that animals are not harmed in producing it, it is not a sustainable material and the synthetic fibres it sheds causes significant damage to the environment through use and then disposal. Many vegans choose not to purchase fleece clothes for this reason, opting for more sustainable vegan materials such as organic cotton, linen, hemp, or even vegan leather. If you must buy fleece, choose a product that is made from recycled fleece and examine the label to check it isn’t blended with anything non-vegan.