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Wool’s Back at Patagonia, Now With Strict Sourcing Rules

After three years, Patagonia is reintroducing wool into its product array, this time with fresh standards and certifications.

The outdoor specialist noted in a blog post on its “The Cleanest Line” site that in 2015 it made a conscious decision to put a pause on wool sourcing “until we can assure our customers of a verifiable process that ensures the humane treatment of animals.”

“We are happy to have accomplished our goal and to update you that as of Fall 2018, all of the wool in our products has been certified to the Responsible Wool Standard (RWS), from farm to finished product,” Patagonia said. “In addition, our key wool partners have also met the even more stringent requirements outlined in the Patagonia Wool Standard (PWS). The development of both the RWS and the PWS took careful consideration of best practices in animal welfare and land management, and consultation with farms, animal welfare experts, brands and NGOs.”

Patagonia noted that as part of its wider responsibly sourced wool strategy, it has worked with sheep farmers and its manufacturing supply chain to obtain certification to the RWS. The company said, “This ensures that the responsible wool that was shorn at the certified farms was not mixed or swapped with conventional wool from other sources. This effort has spanned multiple supply chains and countries.”

In addition, to ensure a “best in class” supply chain assurance from farm to finished product, Patagonia has obtained certification for its own brand. “This involved changing the way we worked across many departments and even undergoing onsite RWS audits at our distribution center,” the company said. “Obtaining a final stage certification mark is an important milestone for Patagonia as a brand.”

The company said it learned a lot during the process. For example, for the majority of wool sourcing brands, mapping their wool back to the farm is daunting due to the number of consolidators, agents and traders involved in the global wool market. Through diligence, the company was able to find wool suppliers willing to provide visibility to their farms and guarantee the traceability of the wool through the supply chain.

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“One of the biggest challenges was finding suppliers who were willing to start this journey with us and accept our requirements for wool, not only in quality but also in animal welfare and land management,” the company said. “Our Patagonia Wool Standard is the hardest to meet. This is due to the fact that two of our additional requirements involve processes that take place after the animals are sold by the farmer.”

Patagonia said it feels its requirements have challenged farmers to change long-held wool ranching practices. But it was “inspired along the way by seeing how they overcame all the challenges.”

“Our progressive farm partners first and foremost care for their animals and their land, that is their livelihood and legacy and they took our standards and crafted careful plans that helped them achieve the most robust animal welfare practices we have ever seen,” the company added. “It is also important to recognize that the men and women taking care of the sheep that give our wool are constantly faced with incredible business challenges from market fluctuations, legislative/policy developments, a changing climate, obtaining financing for their operations and ensuring they train the next generation of farmers. We are honored they chose us to feature their wool in our products and applaud them for their commitment.”

Patagonia’s action comes as animal-based material sourcing has come under greater scrutiny. Many brands have pledged to stop using mohair under pressure from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

Asos this month updated its animal welfare policy and will no longer be stocking products containing mohair, cashmere, silk, feathers, down, bone, teeth or shell, including mother-of-pearl. Asos will only source certain types of leather, wool and other animal hair as a by-product of the meat industry from suppliers with good animal husbandry.

Last month, Uniqlo and joined the more than 80 other major retailers worldwide that have banned mohair in response to PETA’s video exposé of the mohair industry in South Africa, the source of more than 50 percent of the world’s mohair. PETA’s eyewitness exposé allegedly revealed that angora goat kids were treated cruelly during the sheering process. Some were also shown being killed.