Do you know where your sweater comes from?


A little less than a decade ago I wrote a column about an amazing new initiative, courtesy of Fendi, called Pesce d’Aprile, in which a customer could visit a crocodile farm in Singapore, select the reptile their handbag would be made from, and then follow their evolution via an application. Billed as the fashion equivalent of “know your food”, it was the first of its kind.

It was also entirely invented (by me): an April Fool’s Day invented to underline how far fashion brands would be willing to differentiate themselves – and the fact that, more and more, customers are interested in the origin of their products.

Except now, finally, the joke is on me.

Loro Piana, the luxury brand known for its lavish and understated knits that appear to have been woven from liquidated banknotes, has embarked on a program that will allow customers to retrace every step of the production of one of its baby goat cashmere sweaters. tidy.

It may sound simple: how can a brand not know exactly where and how its products are made? Yet the fashion supply chain is so complicated, with its many moving parts spread across so many countries and processes, that for most of us the origin stories of our clothes are almost entirely opaque.

“We think companies know where things are coming from, and in fact, many companies lost this ability quite a long time ago,” said Maxine Bédat, founder of the New Standard Institute, a nonprofit founded to define and create a framework for fashion sustainability claims. “The more products you add to your offering, the more diffuse and complicated the manufacturing becomes, and as a result, it is very rare today for fashion companies to be able to simultaneously trace all of their chains. procurement and be prepared to disclose it. “

Consider the fact that the medium merino wool sweater will travel 18,000 miles during its production before it hit store shelves, according to Bamford, the British farm-to-table luxury brand.

It is of course easier to retrace this journey if a brand is small enough to do everything itself or if a new brand is built for the sake of transparency. But few founders thought so a decade ago, and almost no brand owns every step of the creative process, from farm to finished product.

For the consumer looking for a holiday gift, this means that it is extremely difficult to know, when you browse the shelves for the perfect chunky knit or cozy scarf, if what you see has. been done responsibly, with environmental and social factors in listening.

This is why, two years ago, Loro Piana, who was acquired by LVMH for 2.6 billion dollars in 2013, decided to define its processes so that it can now include a garment tag telling potential buyers that “this knitting is from a ball that was taken in that specific region that year or that month of that year – there, “said Fabio d ‘Angelantonio, the former CEO of Loro Piana (he was replaced at the end of October by Damien Bertrand). And this bullet was born on the back of this herd.

The project was introduced earlier this year with Loro Piana’s vicuna products and will be expanded to include cashmere and baby cashmere, the company’s biggest sellers. Since the average Loro Piana cashmere sweater will hit around 100 hands in at least three countries as it travels from Mongolia to Italy to its final store, and involves more than 13 different processes on a period of 18 months to two years. , it was not an easy task.

Arguably, such traceability has only been possible because the luxury brand has the… well, the luxury, to know its breeders – they researched, spun, woven and finished. cashmere since 1924 – and because its extremely well-off clients are willing to pay for information. And Loro Piana is betting that this will become more and more of the fashion value proposition. That each physical gift must also bring with it the gift of knowledge.

Instead of the runoff economy, think of it as the runoff transparency. Here is how it starts.

In early spring, cashmere collection begins in Inner Mongolia, northern China and Mongolia. In many cases, breeders have worked with Loro Piana for generations. The process only takes place once a year.

Goats have nature to thank for their annual cut. Cashmere goats are double-coated animals, which means that they produce two types of hair: outer and sub-polar. The fleece protects the goats from the extremely cold temperatures in the area and begins to grow in September and October, when temperatures start to drop. In May, the fleece has reached its full potential and is ready to be picked up by the shepherds. The goats do not lose much, the fleece would fall off naturally.

Fun fact: all cashmere is wool, but not all wool is cashmere. Wool is a catch-all term used to describe the soft undercoat of certain animals (sheep, alpacas, goats, etc.). Cashmere specifically refers to the highly prized fiber of cashmere and certain other breeds of goats.

Throughout the region, herders like Ha Si Ba Gen make a living raising and keeping goats. The country of Mongolia produces a third of the world’s cashmere, and luxury fabric accounts for 40 percent of the country’s non-mineral exports.

Animal and labor conditions are verified by “accredited third parties,” a representative for Loro Piana told The Times. After all, as Mr. d’Angelantonio, the former CEO of the company, said, it was in everyone’s best interests to maintain excellent conditions. “The wool of a happy sheep is better wool than a very stressed sheep,” he said.

When the haircuts are done, the ranchers typically sell the wool to a third-party collector, who will then sell the materials – a blend of cashmere wool from dozens, if not hundreds, of local farms – to various brands. In this case, the cashmere is delivered to Alashan Zuo Qi Dia Li Cashmere in Inner Mongolia, a third party “cooperation” partner in Loro Piana’s production chain since 2005. There the wool is cleaned and inspected.

Although Loro Piana has considered building her own facility in Inner Mongolia, she has instead forged long-term relationships with local partners. A representative of the company explained that it looked for a production unit in China suited to its specific needs, but the difficulties of operating there as a foreign company proved to be insurmountable. As a result, Alashan Zuo Qi Dia Li Cashmere plays a key role in the creation of Loro Piana garments, taking responsibility for the first cleaning cycle before the wool even leaves the area.

From there, the cleaned cashmere is trucked to Beijing or Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia, for rigorous quality control testing. Insightful eyes check the casual dark hair tucked away in the white wool. (These hairs cannot be dyed and are more difficult to spot and remove later.) Then, the cashmere bales are transported to a laboratory in Roccapietra, Italy, (population: 646) for another round of testing. quality.

Next stop: the Loro Piana factory in Quarona, Italy, founded by the Loro Piana family in 1924. The batches (an industrial measure) of cashmere are transferred to a mixing machine, which opens the fibers and flattens them for the first time. This process allows for easier handling.

After being carded (disentangled and cleaned), the fibers are loaded into a spinning machine. Simply put, this is where the fibers become yarn and the yarn becomes fabric.

Now the yarn is ready to color. Loro Piana uses proprietary dye formulations for his clothes.

The actual garments are finally ready for manufacture, a process that is usually carried out by state-of-the-art knitting machines. Once the clothes are finished, they are inspected by expert eyes. Finally, they are packaged for distribution to Loro Piana’s 178 physical stores, e-commerce channels, and various retail partners.

The time between collecting a baby goat underwear and landing a sweater on a store shelf can be up to two years. Loro Piana officials estimate that more than a hundred hands can play a role in the creation of a garment. A Loro Piana cashmere sweater typically starts at $ 1,000, and more complicated styles cost between $ 2,000 and $ 3,000. And goats grow back their hair.


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