Palliser Ridge farm manger Kurt Portas in a Marks and Spencer blazer made with lambs wool from the farm. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

BECKIE WILSON

beckie.wilson@age.co.nz

A South Wairarapa farm has become the first New Zealand grower to supply wool to global clothing giant, British multinational retailer Marks and Spencer under the Responsible Wool Standard [RWS].

This week, Marks and Spencer announced its first clothing range made with RWS-certified New Zealand lambs’ wool, including six mens’ blazers and two waistcoats.

Kurt and Lisa Portas of Palliser Ridge became the national flagship farm for RWS wool, after becoming the first New Zealand farm to achieve the status, with three other Wairarapa farms and 12 nationally now also supplying certified wool.

RWS is a voluntary global standard that addresses the welfare of sheep and traces wool back to the farm, while also establishing a link  between the growers and consumers.

The Portas’ manage and sharehold in the farm for Jim and Marilyn Law, and run 10,000 romney lambs.

Romney wool is known as coarse or strong wool, traditionally used in carpet production.

However, under the RWS, the market has turned for coarse wool growers with clothing companies such as Marks and Spencer using the strong wool.

The 1500ha coastal property produces about seven tonnes of lambs’ wool annually, mostly supplied through Wools of New Zealand to the market.

The farm was a foundation shareholder in Wools of New Zealand at its inception about five years ago.

“It’s really great [Marks and Spencer] are embracing strong or coarse wool — it’s not just for carpet,” Lisa said.

Kurt Portas. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

“New Zealand has so much of this wool and if we can find a way to use it in mainstream fashion,  it’s to going mean great things for our wool producers.”

Kurt said he was keen to adopt any new initiative that was “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.”

Lisa said this was the first time their lambs’ wool had been used for clothing.

The RWS was a more involved audit than they had previously experienced, “but it was absolutely achievable”, she said.

The couple visited Marks and Spencer head office on a trip to England, where they saw the appreciation the company had for New Zealand farmers.

“It’s more than what we originally hoped for, and we hope this is just the beginning.”

Wools of New Zealand director, and Masterton-local, Lucy Griffiths said the collaboration with Marks and Spencer was significant because of the global footprint of the company which has 1500 stores across 57 countries.

“Because of their profile and the fact that this is their first RWS launch, it’s extremely exciting for the industry,” she said.

“So much of New Zealand strong wool goes into flooring, and it’s great to get it into fashionable clothing,” she said.

Consumers were increasingly wanting to know where the wool had come from, that the animals had been treated well and the farm was run sustainably, she said.