Fox in the snow

A Kind Winter Wardrobe

FOUR PAWS Shopping Guide


Vienna, 15 December 2023 – From fur and wool to down: Global animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS gives valuable tips for shopping cosy winter fashion that shields off cold and values precious animals’ lives.

When it gets colder outside again, many people stock up on new warming winter clothing. The main components of beanies, jumpers and jackets are often animal materials, such as wool, down or fur. FOUR PAWS informs about the biggest animal welfare problems and presents cosy and kind alternatives.

Merino sheep wool:

Sheep wool is one of the most used animal derived materials in the fashion industry and due to its characteristics, merino wool is not only used for winter clothing, but also in sportswear and outdoor clothing, suits or even cloth nappies. The main problem with wool products is mulesing, a bloody procedure carried out in Australia, the world's largest wool producer. Sheep farmers cut out large strips of skin around a lamb’s buttock, usually without anaesthesia. The reason for this is to prevent infestation by blowflies. But there are better and pain-free ways available.

FOUR PAWS has been campaigning against mulesing for years and is committed to ensuring that textile companies worldwide only offer mulesing-free certified wool products. While many brands still used mulesed sheep wool, more than 400 international clothing brands have now declared their opposition to mulesing.

Follow these tips to avoid mulesed wool in your winter wardrobe:

  • Consumers can inform themselves about brands use of mulesed sheep wool instore or online before buying, by asking staff or checking a brands animal welfare policy online.
  • Look for the use of certification labels such as the "Responsible Wool Standard (RWS)", "Nativa™" or "ZQ Merino". Without reliable certification, mulesing cannot be ruled out.
  • Remember the best way to avoid animal cruelty is to look for alternatives, only plant-based alternatives can eliminate animal suffering 100 per cent.

Other fine wools such as Mohair and Cashmere can also come at great suffering to animals. It’s important to find out about standards of care for animals before choosing to buy them!


Down in puffer jackets, outdoor clothing or blankets and similar products usually comes from geese and ducks from intensive livestock farming. In the worst case, the animals suffer cruel live plucking or force feeding.

Force feeding usually is done three times a day to geese and ducks causing abnormal liver growth. That liver is then sold as a delicacy.

Live plucking is when down is brutally torn out of geese without any pain relief, often causing injuries and fractures and sometimes even death. This can be repeated every five weeks and since down grows back finer each time there is an incentive for growers to do so. Birds kept on parent farms for reproduction purposes are at an especially high risk of suffering this practice. Unfortunately, FOUR PAWS is not confident that current certifications can sufficiently mitigate this risk due to the complexity of the supply chains.  

  • FOUR PAWS recommends: If consumers want to avoid animal suffering, they should use down alternatives (see below) – these are easily able to compete with down in terms of warmth and quality. If shoppers are insistent on purchasing down, they should look for brands and retailers that have the "Responsible Down Standard (RDS)" but remain aware of that while certifications do bring some value, the down supply chain is inherently high risk.


Hats with fur pom-poms, fur trimmings on hoods, collars, gloves or shoes - behind every real fur application, no matter how small, enormous animal suffering is hidden. In 2022 alone over 30 million minks, foxes and raccoon dogs were bred in fur farms in cramped batteries of cages and brutally killed for their fur. Many more species die every year for their fur in captivity or are killed with traps.

FOUR PAWS campaigns for fur-free fashion and, as a representative of the international Fur Free Retailer program in many countries, is instrumental in persuading companies to adopt a fur-free future. FOUR PAWS also supports the European Citizens' Initiative (ECI) , which has been the most successful ECI  on animal welfare  while being the third most successful overall, calling for a ban on fur farms and fur sales. Up until now 20 Member State adopted legislative restrictions on fur farming In its formal response on December 7th the European Commission announced that fur farming and the placement of farmed fur products in the EU could finally be banned, pending an opinion of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). In the next year FOUR PAWS will continue its work to ensure the Commission acts in accordance with the demands of millions of citizens.

  • FOUR PAWS advice on fur: Hands off! Fur that is produced animal-friendly does not exist, nor do the fur industry's certification programmes offer higher animal welfare standards.  is often not clearly labelled as such and cannot be reliably distinguished from artificial fur due to its appearance or price. FOUR PAWS therefore recommends checking the  if in doubt over fur-free companies.

Kind alternatives

Without a doubt, an animal-free wardrobe is the most animal-friendly alternative, because even garments certified to so called animal welfare standards can never eliminate animal suffering completely. Thankfully today, there are more sustainable and animal-free materials than ever before:

Wool alternatives: There are many recommended animal-free alternatives to wool:

  • Organic cotton – is produced without harmful synthetic chemicals or additives.
  • TENCEL™ Lyocell – made from wood pulp. This is produced using an environmentally friendly process and is biodegradable and recyclable.
  • Recycled polyester – made from recycled plastic bottles.
  • Or look out for innovative next-gen materials made from coconut and hemp waste blend (e.g.: Spinnova) or blends made from the Calotropis plant and regenerative cotton (e.g.: WEGANWOOL)

Down alternatives:

  • There are already many established alternatives on the market such as PrimaLoft®.
  • Equally recommendable are plant-based down alternatives such as Tencel™ (Lyocell) (see above) or Kapok. Kapok is a hollow fibre made from the husks of the tropical kapok tree.
  • You can look for recycled fibres or plant based down such as FLWRDOWN.


Fur alternatives:

  • Plant-based alternatives such as Hemp or BioFluff are a great alternative.
  • Furthermore, the newest innovation from the company SpiberInc can produce fur and wool materials by producing brewed protein staple fibres created via a fermentation process.


For more handy tips and tricks check out our website! FOUR PAWS is campaigning for an animal-friendly future for fashion through its Wear it Kind programme, calling on shoppers and consumers world wide to pledge to #WearItKind!

Polar fox in the snow


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Michael Kellner

Michael Kellner

PR International Officer

+43 (1) 89 50 20 20

+43 (0) 664 504 38 97

VIER PFOTEN International 
Linke Wienzeile 236
1150 Vienna, Austria

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FOUR PAWS is the global animal welfare organisation for animals under direct human influence, which reveals suffering, rescues animals in need and protects them. Founded in 1988 in Vienna by Heli Dungler and friends, the organisation advocates for a world where humans treat animals with respect, empathy and understanding. The sustainable campaigns and projects of FOUR PAWS focus on companion animals including stray dogs and cats, farm animals and wild animals – such as bears, big cats and orangutans – kept in inappropriate conditions as well as in disaster and conflict zones. With offices in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Kosovo, the Netherlands, Switzerland, South Africa, Thailand, Ukraine, the UK, the USA and Vietnam as well as sanctuaries for rescued animals in eleven countries, FOUR PAWS provides rapid help and long-term solutions.

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