Another Tomorrow loves wool for good reason: It’s renewable, natural and vanishes into the soil at the end of its life. Indeed, the fluffy stuff makes up roughly one-third of the luxury label’s ethically crafted wares, from pinstripe cinched-waist blazers to capacious funnel-neck sweaters.
The problem? Wool production requires sheep, which like other livestock belch out methane, a greenhouse gas orders of magnitude more potent than carbon dioxide. It’s because of this that the now-beleaguered Higg Materials Sustainability Index, using data provided by the International Wool Textile Organisation, has consistently rated wool poorly for its global warming potential, which it estimates is three times greater than acrylic and more than quintuple that of conventional cotton.
All this bubbled to the surface when Another Tomorrow started crunching its carbon footprint.
“Despite the fact that we were sourcing from exclusively ethical and regenerative growers in Tasmania, [wool] was still a major contributor to our overall carbon footprint,” Vanessa Barboni Hallik, the certified B Corp’s founder, told Sourcing Journal. “And so we really wanted to make sure that in addition to supporting the transition to regenerative agriculture that we also explicitly started looking for farms that had a more efficient and, if possible, net sequestering impact on carbon.”
So the New York City fashion label turned to the ZQ Regenerative Index (ZQRX), a two-year-old platform that counts among its brand partners Allbirds, Icebreaker and Smartwool. The brainchild of the New Zealand Merino Company, which represents the interests of the New Zealand sheep industry, ZQRX works with nearly 500 farms across more than one million hectares of grazeland to employ regenerative practices that draw down carbon from the atmosphere, bolster soil health and promote biodiversity.
Another Tomorrow will glean its wool directly from Lake Hāwea Station, a carbon-zero-certified grower that operates a 6,500-hectare property flocking with nearly 10,000 merino sheep. The farm is conducting extensive biodiversity restoration work on the property, which houses several endangered species, including the western grand skink, clutha flathead galaxiid and the rare karearea falcon.
The fiber will debut with the firm’s spring 2023 collection. Over the next 12 months, Barboni Hallik said, Lake Hāwea Station wool will underpin 40 percent of its woolen items.
John Brakenridge, CEO of The New Zealand Merino Company, told Sourcing Journal that ZQRX doesn’t work with just anyone but that Another Tomorrow’s commitment to sustainability made the collaboration a natural fit.
“What we’re building here and what we’re building with Vanessa is a process that goes beyond accreditation,” he told Sourcing Journal of ZQRX’s 15 points of measurement, which are designed not only to help growers understand the “complex interactions” between their livestock, soils, climate, ecology and community but also incentivize them to continuously improve their accounting. “Sustainability is no longer enough. We must be going into something that is regenerative and giving more than we’re taking.”
This, Brakenbridge added, includes the oft-whispered “S” in ESG, which refers to a company or strategy’s social impacts. It’s ZQRX’s focus on building deep farm-level relationships, with literal boots on the ground, that distinguishes it from similar standards, he said.
To lock in ZQRX fiber, brands like Another Tomorrow pay a premium in the ballpark of 20 percent over conventional wool. Contracts with growers take a long-term view, with many extending up to 10 years. Brakenbridge said that removing the volatility of commodity pricing offers a win-win for both the buyer and the supplier. And if the market rewards the farmer, he said, then the industry will start to see the kind of behavioral change that shuns the extractive status quo.
“The unique aspect of working with ZQRX is that for us to do this on a farm-to-farm basis is really painful,” Barboni Hallik said. “To be able to work with an organization that is explicitly working [to] finance this change is really key to making sure it’s also [economically] sustainable.”
For its first year, Another Tomorrow signed on with ZQRX for a single season. Now that it has a better idea of its projected needs, the brand is in the process of formalizing a more protracted agreement.
Brakenbridge said he hopes that regenerative wool can help reduce the fiber’s climate stigma. With the investments ZQRX is making, wool can be a “really important fiber for the industry moving forward,” he said.
“I think intuitively, consumers know that a natural product is going to be better than a synthetic product,” Brakenbridge added. “But nevertheless, we all need to be leaning into carbon. And the Regenerative Index enables us to do that.”