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Beyond the Bale : Feb - Mar 08 Supplement
By Kellie Penfold Jumpers made from organic Australian Merino wool are now on the racks of UK retail giant Marks & Spencer. Following a fact-finding mission by the company's sustainable textiles and cotton specialist Graham Burden to Australia in 2007, Australia's only wool-top processing company, Fletcher International Exports in Dubbo, sent a container load of organic wool (15,000 kilograms) to be made into jumpers for the Marks & Spencer sustainable clothing program. The container travelled to Mauritius where it was knitted by Ferney Spinning Mills, which supplies most of Marks & Spencer's wool garments and generally uses Australian Merino wool sourced from Fletcher International Exports. "At Marks & Spencer we want to offer customers the chance to buy our normal clothing lines, but in organic as well, at the same price," Mr Burden said while visiting an organic wool- growing operation at Peak Hill, south of Dubbo last year. "So, this is not a chance for woolgrowers to suddenly make vast profits. But it is a chance for them to do something that improves the environmental sustainability of their farms." While the company is not expecting organic wool processing to become a huge component of its business, it is a growing and important part, explains Craig French, Fletcher's wool-top export manager. "Enquiry is growing. The other day we took a call from a company in Israel wanting organic sliver wool tops, which means they are after wool for weaving, possibly for suiting," he says. "We've recently commission-combed a large quantity of RETAIL GIANT JUMPS INTO ORGANIC WOOL Organic wool processing is a growing par t of the business for Australia's only wool top maker wool for a US-based company, which was planning to distribute that organic wool to other companies around the world." Added to this are regular requests for information from Germany and other European countries and a number of Australian knitwear and clothing companies. Fletcher International Exports sources organic wool through direct contracts with growers, by auction and tender and through brokers. The company receives wool from about 50 certified organic growers. Mr French says the organic supply chain is long and involved and he advocates a simple and transparent accreditation and labelling system. "There are still a few unanswered questions, such as, what happens if we purchase wool from a certified organic property and then the producers decide to opt out of accreditation the following year, but we still have the wool in storage? These are not complex issues but they need clarification," he says. Wool-processing facilities at Fletcher's site in Dubbo are fully NASAA-certified and accredited. When organic wool is processed, the machinery and site must be totally cleaned out before the wool is brought in, to avoid contamination. "Becoming accredited is not an overnight process and we encourage growers to do it properly and understand fully what it involves. Brokers have been great at encouraging and supporting clients through this," Mr French says. Even when there are no current orders for the wool, Fletcher International Exports still buys and likes to hold good supplies of greasy organic wool. As for the future, Craig French suggests the market will grow steadily and there will be a small premium for organic growers. ú More information: Fletcher International Exports, 02 6884 5833 PIPELINE Aussie company listening to retailers Australian wool-marketing group The Merino Company (TMC) says the environmentally aware consumer wants products that leave the smallest possible footprint on the planet.That footprint might not necessarily be from an 'organic' animal, but from a carbon-neutral garment or an ethically managed sheep. TMC marketing manager Mark Suttie says the company is establishing four environmentally focused wool brand labels, along with the accreditation and certification that goes with them, to meet demand by retailers and manufacturers. These four brand labels comprise a small part of TMC's business, but they are fast becoming the major part. "Three out of every four retailers or manufacturers we speak to talk about environmentally sustainable or organic products first up," Mark says. TMC places itself in the supply chain between growers and end-users, and manages a pool of wool which is sourced and then processed according to the needs of the end-user.TMC markets pools of wool from the grower, sometimes right through to the retail customer. "It doesn't happen overnight," he says. "As part of meeting consumer demand we have to make sure all other parts of the supply chain meet the specifications of the category, particularly EU Ecolabel and organic." TMC is supplying 140 tonnes of 19.5-micron organic wool for UK retailer Marks & Spencer -- some of which is wool top from Fletcher International Exports -- for its Australian organic Merino wool jumpers, 11,000 of which went on sale in December. To enhance Marks & Spencer's Organic Merino program in store,TMC provided point-of-sale marketing collateral showcasing organic farmers and their properties. Garment traceability will allow customers to identify where the wool has come from and the supply chain which has taken the wool from the sheep right through to the shelf. TMC is also working with other leading retailers including Driza-Bone, French outdoor-wear company Aigle, Japan's ASICS, South Africa's Woolworths, and St John Knits and Burlington in the US. More information:The Merino Company, www.merinocompany.com 12 BEYOND THE BALE ECO-TRENDS SUPPLEMENT
Dec - Jan 08
Feb - Mar 08