Fleece pa­trol

To Patag­o­nia in pur­suit of the pi­o­neers polic­ing sus­tain­able wool

Wallpaper - - March - Pho­tog­ra­phy: ge­ordie Wood Writer: LAURA hawkins

Re­new­able, warm, odour-re­sis­tant, non-flammable, hy­poal­ler­genic, elas­tic, soft, wrin­kle-free: wool is a nat­u­ral fi­bre with a lot go­ing for it. Yet ac­cord­ing to a 2017 re­port by the global non-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion Tex­tile Ex­change, wool and down ac­counts for only 1.3 per cent of the world’s fi­bre pro­duc­tion. This is partly due to a com­mu­ni­ca­tion prob­lem: ‘Over the last half a cen­tury, con­sumer mes­sag­ing on wool has been con­fus­ing,’ says Al­berto Rossi, busi­ness de­vel­op­ment man­ager of Or­gan­ica, a new arm of French com­pany Chargeurs Lux­ury Ma­te­ri­als, one of the world’s lead­ing sup­pli­ers of pre­mium wool fi­bre. Cheap syn­thetic al­ter­na­tives now have a 68.3 per cent share of the tex­tiles mar­ket.

In­creas­ingly savvy lux­ury con­sumers un­der­stand the en­vi­ron­men­tal cost of pro­duc­ing and dis­pos­ing of syn­thetic ma­te­ri­als, but they are also of­ten aware of some of the down­sides of wool pro­duc­tion, in­clud­ing an­i­mal cru­elty, worker ex­ploita­tion and pol­lu­tion. Which ex­plains why, as the lux­ury goods groups get se­ri­ous about sus­tain­abil­ity and look to over­haul their man­u­fac­tur­ing and sup­ply chains, pro­duc­ers are busy pol­ish­ing their en­vi­ron­men­tal cre­den­tials.

Chargeurs Lux­ury Ma­te­ri­als promised a trace­able and sus­tain­able sup­ply chain when it launched its Or­gan­ica pre­cious fi­bre last au­tumn. ‘Through the de­vel­op­ment of new global stan­dards, we want to be­come the game changer of the lux­ury nat­u­ral fi­bre world,’ says Michaël Fri­bourg, the Chargeurs group’s chair­man and CEO. Es­tab­lish­ing those stan­dards means hit­ting sup­pli­ers with a lengthy list of pro­to­cols, cov­er­ing an­i­mal and en­vi­ron­men­tal wel­fare, land man­age­ment and cor­po­rate so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity.

This value chain be­gins with over 3,500 grow­ers across Patag­o­nia, Australia, Tas­ma­nia, New Zealand and the United States, many of whom Chargeurs has worked with for gen­er­a­tions, and some of whom will be cer­ti­fied with the Or­gan­ica stan­dard. One of them is Es­tan­cia Cerro Buenos Aires, an 11,000-hectare farm in El Calafate, Patag­o­nia, which pro­duces 25-30 tonnes

‘To be a true lux­ury brand to­day, you have to have a strong com­mit­ment to raw ma­te­ri­als’

of wool per year, and fleeces 1,000 an­i­mals a day dur­ing the week-long au­tumn shear­ing sea­son. Or­gan­ica’s grow­ers pro­duce ‘greasy wool’ of be­tween 14 (the same fine­ness as goat-pro­duced cash­mere) and 23 mi­crons. This is then combed and spun into high-end yarn. Wool be­low 20 mi­crons is suit­able for in­su­lat­ing nextto-skin per­for­mance wear, while 18.5 mi­crons is the op­ti­mum fi­bre di­am­e­ter for a soft worsted wool suit.

Or­gan­ica has a two-track ap­proach to trace­abil­ity. Brands (and their cus­tomers) are able to trace the spe­cific farm or farmers that have sup­plied their merino wool. Or, they can work with Or­gan­ica to de­velop a full trace­abil­ity pro­gramme, which ex­tends across ev­ery sup­ply chain stage from sheep to spin­ner, gar­ment maker to shop floor. A third-party com­pany is re­spon­si­ble for au­dit­ing each el­e­ment of the sup­ply chain. ‘Ev­ery farmer has to prove a high com­pli­ance level with our de­mand­ing Or­gan­ica pro­to­col,’ says Uruguay-based Fed­erico Paullier, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Chargeurs Lux­ury Ma­te­ri­als.

Tex­tile Ex­change’s Pre­ferred Fiber Ma­te­ri­als Mar­ket Re­port es­ti­mates that or­ganic wool makes up only one per cent of the 1.2 mil­lion tonnes of wool pro­duced glob­ally, but de­mand for trace­able and eth­i­cal wool is gain­ing mo­men­tum. Pre­sag­ing Or­gan­ica’s pro­to­cols, the non-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion set up the Re­spon­si­ble Wool Stan­dard in 2016, au­dit­ing sheep farms ac­cord­ing to land man­age­ment stan­dards and an­i­mal wel­fare. This in­cludes guide­lines for pre­vent­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal de­gen­er­a­tion due to an­i­mal graz­ing, and re­stric­tions on ‘mulesing’, a painful and con­tro­ver­sial pro­ce­dure, used in Australia, which sees strips of skin re­moved from the breeches of sheep, to pre­vent myi­a­sis or ‘fly strike’.

Gabriela Hearst, who grew up in Uruguay on a merino sheep ranch that has been in her fam­ily for six gen­er­a­tions, founded her epony­mous sus­tain­abil­ity fo­cused brand in 2015. Op­er­at­ing her fash­ion la­bel from New York, she sup­plies Ital­ian mills with wool from her own farm, and buys surplus dead­stock fi­bre as part of her la­bel’s pro­duc­tion process. ‘I can’t stand the thought of the world’s most beau­ti­ful wool be­ing stuck in a ware­house be­cause it is a few sea­sons old,’ Hearst says. ‘To be a true lux­ury brand to­day, you have to have a strong com­mit­ment to raw ma­te­ri­als.’

New York-based fash­ion la­bel The­ory launched its sus­tain­abil­ity-fo­cused Good Wool cap­sule col­lec­tion for A/W17, sourc­ing wool from Beaufront, an eth­i­cal farm in Tas­ma­nia, which is then spun at the Tol­legno tex­tile mill in Italy, pow­ered by re­new­able en­ergy.

Stella Mccart­ney’s long-term com­mit­ment to sus­tain­able man­u­fac­tur­ing once looked mav­er­ick; now her views are main­stream. Still, she keeps push­ing for more care and con­cern across the in­dus­try. Last Novem­ber, the Bri­tish la­bel and the Ellen Macarthur Foun­da­tion launched the Cir­cu­lar Fi­bres Ini­tia­tive, a re­port as­sess­ing the dev­as­tat­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact of the tex­tile in­dus­try. Its find­ings in­cluded an es­ti­mate that by 2050, 22 tril­lion tones of syn­thetic mi­crofi­bres will have been re­leased into the oceans. The brand’s Cra­dle-to-cra­dle Cer­ti­fied Gold Level wool yarn is pro­duced with­out us­ing toxic sub­stances, and can there­fore be safely biode­graded back into soil. ‘Through ev­ery step of the sup­ply chain we op­ti­mised chem­i­cal in­puts,’ Mccart­ney says of the process that took two years to de­velop. Her com­mit­ment to wool pro­duc­tion pro­motes the con­cept of a non-lin­ear, cir­cu­lar econ­omy, where gar­ments are reused, re­cy­cled, or bi­o­log­i­cally har­nessed to re­gen­er­ate nat­u­ral sys­tems. ‘Our goal was to en­sure that one of our key wool yarns was a safe build­ing block to­wards this idea.’

Wool­mark is de­vel­op­ing its re­la­tion­ship with the Fash­ion Tech Lab, the Miroslava Duma-founded com­pany which aims to help brands im­prove their en­vri­on­men­tal foot­prints. It seeks out pro­duc­ers who do not use petro­chem­i­cals, toxic APEO/NPEO com­pound-based de­ter­gents or fluoro­car­bon-based fin­ishes, and favour wa­ter­less dyes. Bangkok-based tex­tile man­u­fac­turer Yeh Group uses Dry­dye, a com­pressed, re­cy­cled car­bon diox­ide to colour fab­ric. Pili, which op­er­ates from two lab­o­ra­to­ries in France, cul­ti­vates bac­te­ria to pro­duce re­new­able nat­u­ral dye, while Colori­fix has de­vel­oped a new ap­proach to dye­ing from its head­quar­ters in Cam­bridge, UK, which uses ten times less water than con­ven­tional prac­tices.

The high street is do­ing its home­work, too. Last Septem­ber, Con­trol Union, a global spe­cial­ist in sus­tain­abil­ity pro­grammes, joined forces with H&M to launch Con­nected, a data ser­vice that al­lows re­tail­ers to track com­plex sup­ply chains. Con­nected is cur­rently work­ing with 600 com­pa­nies, which are able to trace whether con­tro­ver­sial prac­tices like mulesing are be­ing used within their sup­ply chain, or whether wool fi­bre is be­ing blended with other ma­te­ri­als as it trav­els up­stream. They even have the op­tion of plac­ing QR codes on their cloth­ing la­bels, as a way for cus­tomers to dig­i­tally trace the ori­gin of a gar­ment.

Chargeurs Lux­ury Ma­te­ri­als’ tar­get is that 50 per cent of its wool fi­bre meets the Or­gan­ica stan­dard by 2021, and 100 per cent in the fol­low­ing decade. For the com­pany’s grow­ers, who al­ready op­er­ate with high pro­duc­tion values, meet­ing these new stan­dards means ex­tra costs. Farmers may need to pur­chase or­ganic, heavy, metal-free fer­tilis­ers, in­stall new hous­ing pens, or re­train their staff in re­vised lamb­ing, shear­ing and slaugh­ter prac­tices. ‘Farmers need to do a lot of home­work,’ says Paullier. How­ever, he es­ti­mates that after im­ple­ment­ing Or­gan­ica’s pro­to­col, farmers’ prof­its will in­crease by five per cent. ‘It’s an in­vest­ment. When we grow, they grow.’ He also es­ti­mates the cost in­crease to the brand to be one per cent, and even less to the con­sumer. In or­der for cus­tomers to pur­chase high qual­ity, trace­able and re­new­able gar­ments, which can be im­ple­mented into a cir­cu­lar econ­omy, it’s a tiny mark-up to ab­sorb. ‘At the end of the day’, Paullier adds, ‘the per­son who is re­ally go­ing to drive this de­mand is the con­sumer.’∂

— Ma­te­rial world — PART I: SUS­TAIN­ABLE WOOL

El Gapon, a small sheep farm in El Calafate, patag­o­nia. the south­ern re­gion is ar­gentina’s main wool-pro­duc­ing area, and is home to around ten mil­lion sheep, of which 75 per Cent are merino, pro­duc­ing 28,000 tonnes of merino wool per year

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