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As many sheep farms in New Zealand are run by families, native wool growers are passionate about protecting the land and ensuring they leave it in a perfect condition. This concept is known as Kaitiaki, which comes from the Maori term Kaitiaki Tanga and roughly translates as ‘guardianship and protection of the environment’.

With differing standards and opinions on animal welfare, social welfare and environmental protection across the globe, we need a wool standard that sets a benchmark and encourages transparency from brands to achieve trust from consumers. For wool growers, it drives meaningful, long-term change towards responsible farming and provides reassurance to customers that a product has been ethically produced.

That’s why The Responsible Wool Standard (RWS) has been developed as the global standard for growing wool with progressive standards in land management and animal welfare. With support from partners including M&S and Wools of New Zealand’s, the standard has been created by the Textile Exchange, a global non-profit which aims to enhance integrity in preferred fibres. RWS farms and businesses are thoroughly audited to ensure animal welfare is of the highest priority. 

M&S has this week launched its first ever items made with RWS certified wool that is traceable back to the Wools of New Zealand farms where it’s sourced. The range includes six blazers and two waistcoats.

We knew that M&S would be a powerful partner in influencing the supply chain and customers. It’s a brand that aims to create quality products and offer great value for money, all while driving towards sustainability.

At Wools of New Zealand, we have 700 wool growers producing 14.5 million kg of wool annually. We specialise in matching the right farms and the wool they produce to the right brands and product. We selected Palliser Ridge in the North Island to be the very first of Wools of New Zealand’s farms to be certified under the RWS. Kurt Portas runs the property with his wife Lisa, a young Kiwi family committed to working with nature and their 10,000 sheep.

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The Portas family, Lisa, Kurt, Beauden, Axel and 11 other Kiwi farms embraced the opportunity to be at the forefront of this global standard.

Kurt Portas commented: “Palliser Ridge is totally committed to best practice. We are receptive to adopting any new initiative that is market driven to lift standards of animal welfare, farm management and the environment. RWS simply recognises the efforts that we put into our land and by farming our animals in the most ethical way.”

The RWS tracks the certified wool through the supply chain to final product using transaction certificates. Taking this a step further, we partnered with scientific verification company Oritain to provide full traceability to any wool carrying the Wools of New Zealand brand. Oritain test the fibre itself by using advanced isotope technology to ensure origin traceability. Using this technology, we have collected samples from individual Wools of New Zealand farms to create a fingerprint of origin for our RWS wool. This fingerprint is then used to conduct audits in the supply chain, allowing us to easily verify the wool’s origin.

The M&S products with RWS certification use wool that can be traced back to wool growers who have cared for the land and the sheep responsibly. We know who grows our wool and we’re assured that they’re passionate about working with nature. Our partnership with M&S has allowed us to show the farmers that customers care about their responsible practices on the farms. And in turn, it’s shows other growers in the industry that sustainable farming really does matter.

As part of M&S’s Plan A 2025, information on its wool sourcing will be added to its digital transparency maps this month, including details on the individual farms that supply wool used to produce M&S clothes.