Yup, you heard that right. The words ‘vegan’ and ‘wool’ now coexist. It is possible to derive wool from plants and it’s being made right here in India. Intrigued? Then it’s time to meet Gowri Shankar, the brain behind Weganool. It is produced by his fabric manufacturing brand, Faborg and aims to leave a positive environmental impact.
In the last decade, there has been an increased awareness of sustainable and vegan fashion. The need for the latter arose more after the video of wool shearers in the UK ill-treating sheep was brought to the surface by PETA back in 2018. Conscious consumerism has seen an increased demand for eco-friendly and ethical fabrics, and several companies in the wool industry are treating the animals better. And now, a plant-based replacement for wool is a total game-changer.
Hailing from a family of weavers and having worked with renowned brands himself, Shankar began the search for a clean and cruelty-free alternative in fashion. We caught up with Gowri to find out more about Weganool and how its production can contribute towards making the fashion industry toxic-free.
ELLE: Tell us a little about Weganool.
Gowri Shankar: Weganool comes from a wild plant called Calotropis, which is widely grown in India. The character and the hollow structure of the Calotropis fibres are similar to the high-quality wool than any other plant fibres. Weganool sounds a lot like vegan wool – a sustainable plant-based wool alternative. In addition, “nool” in Tamil means a book and a thread. Weganool is like a guidebook for sustainable textile manufacturing.
ELLE: How is the vegan wool fabric different from regular wool?
GS: It does not shrink with washing and it is easier to maintain. It has antimicrobial properties and does not create an itchy feeling. Moreover, it’s cruelty-free.
ELLE: What drove you to search for an alternative to wool?
GS: I have been working in the fashion industry for a long time and I was tired of greenwashing in the industry, so I wanted to build a company where there was no negative impact on the environment. When we started our search for sustainable fabric, I did a lot of research on other fibres like banana and the feasibility of hemp, but none of them looked interesting. When we started working on this fibre (from the plant, Calotropis), the only thing we knew was that it is soft and warm, which could be used as wool and that’s how the idea started.
ELLE: Sounds interesting. Tell us more.
GS: It took us some time to figure out how to extract these fibres. We didn’t want to use any chemicals because the biggest problem the industry is facing right now is sludge, which is formed when toxic chemicals are used in the manufacturing process and is highly impossible to filter. While there is no right way to dispose of sludge, natural raw materials as leftovers can become manure for the land. So, we opened our office close to Auroville in September 2017 and started a separate production unit where we do our trials and other projects. We filed the patency in December 2017 and then started exploring more options on how to sustainably extract the stem fibres as well because that was a complicated task.
ELLE: How is the Calotropis plant beneficial in the long run?
GS: The Calotropis plant has a lot of benefits, especially for our farmers. Concentrated residue from the fibre extraction process is converted into a highly efficient natural fertilizer and insect repellent for the local farmers called Arka. Additionally, by multi-cropping Calotropis with other plants, farmers will earn income all around the year. It’s a very low-maintenance plant. No extra expenses for fencing, watering, fertilizing, etc. are required. In fact, farmers can become distributors of Arka, earn extra income and their land will become more fertile.
ELLE: Coming to Faborg, where can our readers find Weganool?
GS: We have created yarns that are suitable for a wide variety of end products. There are many end-products that can be created with Weganool such as scarves, shirts, jackets, sweaters, etc. The brand, Infantium Victoria has been using Weganool in their collection for over a year now.
ELLE: What are your future plans with Faborg?
GS: To collaborate with the farmers and brands around the globe and raise the standards of sustainable textile manufacturing practices.