Regenerative Wool Shaking Up the Textile Industry


Savory Institute team member, Chris Kerston, was invited to speak at the International Wool Trade Organization’s (IWTO) roundtable event in Port Elizabeth, South Africa earlier this month. South Africa is one of the premier wool growing and processing regions of the world. This annual event is designed to bring people together from across the wool industry to help develop new collaborations and synergies in both the textile and apparel industries.

Our founder, Allan Savory, spoke at one of the IWTO gatherings in 2014 (watch here). This led to a demand for closer interaction with the Savory Institute, as wool producers there proactively look for ways to further improve their grazing management to regenerate their landscapes.

Chris Kerston presenting on Land To Market regenerative supply chain in South Africa   Rolf Pretorius talking about Olive Leaf Foundation at International Wool Trade Organization roundtable
At the IWTO event this year, Chris presented in tandem with the Savory Hub leader in South Africa, Rolf Pretorius. In addition to presenting, Chris and Rolf met with individuals representing all areas of the wool supply chain to discuss the excitement around our new outcome-based Ecological Outcome Verification, and subsequent Land To Market program.

Rolf has been a very active participant in this emerging program and is set up as one of our prototype Hubs to lead this initiative in this region. He works closely with both commercial ranchers and community farmers in the region.

Here is an example of one of the community wool projects that Rolf has helped cultivate:

Chris also got the opportunity to visit BKB, a wool broker and auction house. BKB is the largest aggregator in the country and markets 62% of the country’s wool. South Africa has a long history raising quality wool and was the first country outside Europe to own Merinos.

This history dates back as far as 1789, when the Netherlands government donated two Spanish Merino rams and four Spanish Merino ewes to a military commander there to experiment with. Today, it is one of the largest wool growing regions for the apparel industry with about 15 million merino sheep (see Bloomberg article).

Unfortunately, too much of our modern population has lost touch with the amazing properties of wool, especially for their daily-wear choices. Polyester and other petroleum-based synthetic-imitations make up most of the fast-fashion sweaters and other faux-wool items sold today. However, the reality is that when wool is processed correctly it is an outstanding material, one that cannot really be rivaled in performance by any other fabric. For example, many people are surprised to learn that the majority of quality men’s suits are made from 100% wool.

Wool has properties that keep the wearer cool during the hot months and then the same garment will keep the wearer warm during the winter months. When the right fleeces are used in the correct applications, wool is not in any way itchy but quite the contrary, it is incredibly soft and supple. Luckily, we are seeing a resurgence of wool products coming back in the luxury categories but also in performance-wear.

Many outdoor brands are bringing back wool for its incredible versatility; it is breathable, naturally water-repellent and has unparalleled odor-control. Most of the major outdoor brands have released special lines featuring wool base layers and even wool underwear. The days of scratchy wool are over! Recent studies are even showing that superfine merino can actually be therapeutic for people who have eczema and other skin irritation conditions (see video below).

To top all of that off, when the sheep are managed properly they can play an amazing role in sequestering carbon, restoring watersheds, restoring wildlife habitat and reversing climate change. Our ecological outcome verification is quantifying that positive impact across landscapes and helping brands access wool from lands that are verifiably regenerating.

We at Savory are incredibly excited to see the kinds of collaborative projects developing in South Africa and look forward to many years of fruitful projects, centered around wool, emerging in that region.

If you haven’t seen our Story of Wool episode be sure to watch it here:

Savory Institute

Savory Institute

The Savory Institute is on a mission to regenerate the grasslands of the world and the livelihoods of their inhabitants, through Holistic Management. Since 2009, Savory Institute has been leading the regenerative agriculture movement by equipping farmers, ranchers, and pastoralist communities to regenerate land within culturally-relevant and ecologically-appropriate contexts.
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