Ethical, sustainable and traceable wool grows in popularity

Fox & Lillie has achieved premiums of between 50-70 c/kg clean over wool sold by auction for growers supplying RWS accredited product.

Leading, family owned Australian wool broker and exporter Fox & Lillie is forging ahead to build direct links with garment makers and global retail brands to better negotiate price premiums for its grower clients.

Fox & Lillie’s Wagga and Culcairn stores will join forces to exhibit at this year’s Henty Machinery Field Days on September 17-19.

The company has established a sustainable and ethical wool sourcing program called Genesys aiming to connect Australian woolgrowers with leading brands around the world.

Importantly, the wool sourced from the Fox & Lillie Genesys grower group conforms to the Responsible Wool Standard (RWS), a new voluntary global code addressing sheep welfare, land sustainability and traceability.

The third party audited standard, which excludes wool from mulesed sheep but caters for those who have ceased mulesing for two years, was developed in 2016 by global sustainability assessment company Textile Exchange and leading brands including Smartwool, Timberland, The North Face, Katmandu and Burberry.

All the growers in Fox & Lillie’s group, to the processors handling the wool and garment makers are all accredited.

Managing director of the woolgrower services division Jonathan Lillie said it was in the company’s interests to connect with the people at the consumer end of the supply chain, and the brands creating and designing the garments.

According to Mr Lillie, his company has been able to achieve premiums of between 50-70 cents a kg clean over wool sold by auction for growers supplying RWS accredited product.

In 18 months, Fox & Lillie has gone from a standing start to parceling up to 500 tonnes a year from the 50 growers in its Genesys group and other individuals who meet the standard and consign a portion of their clips to the company.

Fox & Lillie also claims to be the first exporter in the world to sell Australian origin RWS accredited wool tops and open wool tops.

In another first, it is also developing a market for RWS carding wool.

RWS accredited growers still represent a small amount of the Australian wool clip, with an estimated 90 per cent of Australian wool still coming from mulesed sheep.

And of the 10 per cent that choose not to mules, a high proportion will still be capable of meeting the RWS criteria because of the general high standards already practiced by Australian woolgrowers.

Mr Lillie is encouraged by more and more retail brands wanting to source RWS wool to determine the provenance of their product and the increasing number of growers wishing to promote their accredited wool.

According to Fox & Lillie processed trading manager David Martin, more farmers are talking about conforming to RWS and there’s been little push back.

Of particular appeal to retailers is the ability to add RWS swing tickets to garments meeting the wool standard, which conveys to the consumer the product meets strict ethical, traceability and sustainability measures.

Jonathan Lillie says the most demand for RWS wool has come from the European markets or China for re-export.

Even more recently there has been a shift to companies, who may have been dismissive of the RWS previously, becoming certified.

While acknowledging the majority of woolgrowers still mules, Mr Lillie said the RWS program simply provided an opportunity for those who have made the transition to a compliant farm business model to differentiate their wool and access additional markets.

“For woolgrowers interested in joining Fox & Lillie’s Genesys program, the company is taking on new members,” he said.