Students Awarded for Creating Cruelty-Free Vegan Hemp and Coconut ‘Woocoa’ Wool

vegan wool sweater

A vegan wool called “Woocoa” has taken home the PETA Prize for Animal-Free Wool at the 2018 Biodesign Challenge, an annual competition that challenges art and design students to “envision future applications of biotechnology.” The award ceremony took place last year at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art.

Made from hemp and coconut fibers and then treated with enzymes extracted from oyster mushrooms, the animal-free wool was created by a group of design students hailing from the Universidad de los Andes Bogotá, Colombia.

“The kind minds behind Woocoa came up with an eco-friendly, biofabricated material that will satisfy consumers and keep sheep from being shorn bloody for cruelly obtained wool,” said PETA Director of Corporate Affairs Anne Brainard. “PETA’s Animal-Free Wool Prize gives compassionate aspiring designers the boost that they need to help change the world for the better.”

The grand prize includes a one- to two-week long mentorship at cruelty-free fashion designer Stella McCartney’s London headquarters. Animal rights organization PETA, McCartney, and the woman-led vegan venture capital firm Stray Dog Capital sponsored the competition.

sheep wool field
The wool industry has been criticized for animal cruelty

While animal-based fashion materials such as leather and fur are high profile for their mistreatment of animals, wool is often considered to be less cruel to the animals used in its production. However, a number of recent exposés have revealed that this is not the case. Sheep raised for the wool industry often experience multiple cases of abuse ranging from mutilation or being skinned alive in an effort to shear the animal as quickly as possible, due to the by-the-volume pay rate given to employees. In addition to that, one fashion industry study revealed that wool is the most unkind to the planet.

McCartney, that uses wool in several designs, highlighted the need for innovative vegan wool at the start of the competition, stating that: “We want to use this fabric, we want to use these designs and we want to be able to push fashion forward.”

Vegan actors Joaquin Phoenix and Alicia Silverstone have used their platform to take a stand against wool. Phoenix appeared in an anti-wool billboard during 2018’s New York Fashion Week and the year prior, Silverstone appeared nude in a Portland, Oregon, billboard that stated: “I’d rather go nude than wear wool.”