INTERNATIONAL and Australian fashion brands expressed a commitment to non-mulesed wool use and its increased production during the first day of the Wool Connect conference yesterday.
But many fell silent when Sheep Central asked if they would still use wool from mulesed sheep if pain relief was used and other sustainability factors were managed to their requirements.
Speakers at the conference came from leading brands such as Hugo Boss, MUJI, Kering Group, Inditex and Country Road.
Question moderator and the Schneider Group’s chief sustainability officer Willy Garcia said it was a “tough question” and despite his “who dares?” comment, after a 10-second silence only the Kering Group’s Debora Tricarico answered.
“We believe at Kering that any reasonable effort should be done to avoid mulesing, so I wonder why we should still take mulesed wool?
“I mean, what would be the reason for taking that?” she asked.
“It’s not a provocative question, but I’m curious about that.”
Mr Gallia said some people are arguing that it is not easy to change to non-mulesing and this process required the use of more chemicals, which was a sustainability factor.
“Actually pain relief is of course better, but what we believe is that the market is quite ready to deliver non-mulesed wool, so we do not really see why we should take mulesed wool.”
Here Kering Group colleague Katrina Ole-Moyoi said she recognised that to make the switch to non-mulesed wool production is more work and involved additional costs.
“So this notion of making sure that they receive fair price for that wool is super-important.”
She said the supply chain needed to “make sure that the payment (for non-mulesed wool) makes sense, given the new requirement.”
Mr Gallia said many of the Authentico stakeholders did not approve of mulesing with pain relief.
The silence of most of the conference speakers after the Sheep Central question raised speculation among listeners as to the real commitment of some of the represented companies to animal welfare, or that they might using wool from mulesed sheep, as perhaps indicated by the sale of the entire Australian clip each year.
Earlier in the conference, Hugo Boss principal sustainability Heinz Zeller said the company is selecting wool “always more and more from sustainable sheep farming” and had published a Wool Commitment including the Five Freedoms of animal welfare with “particular attention to the mulesing free topic.”
“That’s really not a very exciting thing still in Australia unfortunately and I’m fully aware of the conditions in Australia, but here we definitely need a move to get this wool even better accepted by our consumers.”
Senior manager of MUJI’s apparel division Ichiro Kitao said the company only used non-mulesed wool and bought 15,000 bales of non-mulesed wool annually from Australia, certified by AWEX. But he said the company estimated it would require 1.4 times this amount of non-mulesed wool by 2025.
“To realise our plan increased production of non-mulesed wool in Australia is crucial and important to us.
“We are now discussing with Schneider Australia and Motohiro about a program to support growers of non-mulsed wool for higher productivity and to support growers to convert to non-mulesed wool production,” he said.
“If such a program encourages the growers in Australia and leads to increased non-mulesed wool production we will be more than happy to source more.”
Kering Group speakers Debora Tricarico said sustainability is really important at the company and with wool this meant non-mulesed supplies certified by the Responsible Wool Standard, Global Organic Textile Standards, ZQ Merino and RWS-certified wool through Authentico.
Inditex’s German Garcia Ibanez said the brand has banned the use of angora (rabbit) and mohair (goat) fibre and aimed to increase its use of certified sustainable wool through the RWS and use of recycled wool. He said RWS had increased the number of farms supplying non-mulesed wool.
But he said there was still a need for more certified farms, because third party certification added value to the brand.
Country Road’s knitwear product development manager Sophie Chapman said animal welfare practices and sustainable land management is a key area of importance for the group and was enshrined in its Responsible Wool Strategy launched last year. She said the group’s commitments are that by the year 2021 all pure wool CR products will be verified non-mulesed or ceased mulesed. By winter 2023, all wool-rich Country Road products (with 30 percent wool composition or more) will be verified non-mulesed or ceased mulesed. By winter 2025, all CR’s pure wool and wool-rich products will be fully traceable, non-mulesed and certified by a credible third party to ensure high animal welfare standards and sustainable farming practices.
More than 600 producers and stakeholders in the global wool industry from Australia, South Africa, Uruguay, South America, Europe, Norway and New Zealand attended the virtual conference, held to connect growers with retailers.
Schneider Group managing director Giovanni Schneider said the conference was an opportunity to be part of a global discussion with some of the most influential stakeholders about the sustainability of the fashion industry, with a particular focus on wool.
He said the conference “might be one of the best wool conferences ever, definitely the most controversial one, because we will be mainly addressing the two big elephants in our room, which are sustainability and animal welfare.”
“And our panellists will reply to your questions explaining to you why, according to them, these points are crucial for the future of our industry.”
Mr Gallia outlined Schneider Group’s sustainability strategy Together 2030 to generate scientifically proven results to combat climate change in processing and production.
Mr Gallia said his experience with corruption and the “divided society” of his home country Argentina taught him the importance of consensus.
“And that’s what Wool Connect is about – it’s about generating consensus throughout the whole wool industry.
“If we do not succeed we are going to continue to work with the decline of production and the decline of wool against all the other fibres.
“We need to change this now … together let’s work to make wool great again.”
The conference also heard an address by Campaign For Wool patron Prince Charles who outlined wool’s opportunity as a sustainable industry within “the current global crisis.”
Prince Charles said “only wool provides the ultimate reassurance of sustainability” within the fashion industry.
The conference continues tonight from 5pm AEST.