The Sustainable Journey of Mohair

August 2020

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The Sustainable Journey of Mohair

 

The Mohair industry has seen a decade of development in two short years – or two very long years, depending on how you choose to see it.

 

The evolution of consumers has put pressure on the manufacturing sector as a whole, especially on the luxury fashion industry. They are becoming increasingly sensitive to the affect their purchases may have. They want to know the people behind the product, and they want assurance that they are not playing any part in harming the environment and, in the case of natural fibres, the animals involved.


This ever-shifting focus toward the wellbeing of life and land has made sustainability and ethical practices the number one non-negotiable in the modern world, and the mohair industry could not allow itself to fall behind.


We understood that sustainability was not a quick-fix, but rather a journey in ultimately changing the underlying culture of the industry over time. 2009 saw the launch of the Sustainable Mohair Production Guidelines, a solid foundation that gave us a competitive edge heading into the future.


A decade later, and with the groundwork in place, we identified the need to adapt further if we were going to drive the required changes within the industry.


The first step in this new part of our journey was to find the right partners that were not only credible and respected internationally, but also had experience in developing and executing standards within natural fibre. Global fashion brands had to be included, as they represent a critical stakeholder within the value chain.


Enter Textile Exchange, a global non-profit that works closely with brands to drive industry transformation in preferred fibres, in terms of integrity and standards, and responsible supply networks. Working with them immediately took our progress to a whole new level.


Their approach was progressive, inclusive and thorough. The 24-month process saw engagement with hundreds of stakeholders, which included farmers, mohair traders, processors, spinners, luxury brands from across the world, as well as leading experts in sustainability standards and incredibly valuable input from the South African mohair industry’s own veterinarian Dr Mackie Hobson.


And after two very short (or long) years, the Responsible Mohair Standard (RMS) was officially launched in March 2020.


Hanna Denes, senior manager of standards at Textile Exchange, said the core focus of the RMS is healthy and well cared for Angora goats.


“The Responsible Mohair Standard verifies and identifies mohair produced in farming systems that respect animal welfare and the environment. Strong assurance systems are applied and regular audits are performed on farms, before the material is tracked to the final product. The RMS is designed to ensure that animal welfare outcomes are delivered, and that the goats are treated humanely.”


Mohair South African general manager Lindsay Humphreys said that while the journey was not always easy, having the right people to support this cause made it easier, and the end result was well worth the effort.


“We worked closely with the Textile Exchange team and, over this period, our organisation built enormous respect for Textile Exchange and what they stand for.


“We found that while the journey was a professional one, we developed close relationships with their team and deep respect for their process and approach.”


Every link in the value chain was part of the RMS development, they supported the process, and all those links now have to play their part to ensure the success of the new standard.


Farmers need to adapt their practices in line with the animal welfare, environmental management and social welfare requirements set out in the RMS, while every other entity between the farm and end-product needs to adhere to their own strict protocols to ensure full sustainability and traceability of the fibre.


To put it plainly, launching the new standard did not flip a switch and instantaneously activate a booming supply of RMS fibre. This is merely the start of yet another journey – one that will need the continued support from all stakeholders.


“Every industry, company and individual has a responsibility to work towards a more responsible and sustainable future, taking the environment, its animals and its people into considerations. Sustainability is not a decision, it’s a journey, taken one step at a time,” said Humphreys.


Innovations along the way

 

With the mohair industry shifting almost its entire focus toward sustainability, we were given some unique opportunities to showcase not only our fibre, but our landscape, practices and the people behind the scenes.


Dr Mackie Hobson, the industry’s veterinarian, played an invaluable role not only during the development of our new standards, but in assisting our mohair producers in understanding what the new standards mean.


Through the South African Mohair Growers’ Association (SAMGA) Dr Hobson was involved in the production of a series of Best Practice videos. These videos explain crucial parts of the day to day activities on an Angora goat farm, and is intended as educational material for farmers and farmworkers, to ensure that they adhere to the requirements of the RMS. Subjects like the proper handling of goats, how to administer certain treatments, and the shearing of goats are just some of the important aspects touched on in these videos.

These videos were uploaded onto YouTube, and can be viewed by farmers and any interested parties.


With the help of virtual reality (VR) technology we were also able to take our farms abroad. During the 2019 Textile Exchange Sustainability Conference, held in Vancouver, the team from Mohair South Africa took VR headsets along, allowing conference goers to ‘experience’ goats being dipped and shorn as if they were on the farm themselves.


This proved to be very popular and more applications for VR are being explored for the future. And on the local front these tools and have been a great addition to the training and development programs the industry already had in place.