Embargo on mohair in clothing harms tens of thousands of farmers and workers in South Africa

Rash decision by fashion giants is too easy and short-sighted

Fashion giants such as Gap, H&M, Zara, Esprit and Topshop have announced they will put a stop to the sales of clothing containing mohair in 2020 at the latest. They have done so in response to a video that was recently published by international animal rights organisation PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) on cruelty to animals occurring in the mohair industry in South Africa. The footage has been shot during a visit to twelve goat farms in South Africa.

Mohair South Africa.

Reina Ovinge of mini factory The Knitwit Stable, a place to work and get inspired for fashion professionals in the knitting sector, has done research on the mohair chain. She does not recognise the experiences shown in the PETA film. In 2017, she travelled to South Africa and visited the farmers, auction, spinners, mohair merchants and factories where the mohair is processed. The goal was to get a complete picture of all the processes and facets of the mohair industry and to compare them to present sustainability standards.

Before she left, Reina fully expected that the animals would be mistreated, and that sustainability would be very hard to find. She was surprised, however, by the steps taken by the mohair industry to improve sustainability and animal welfare. Trade association MSA (Mohair South Africa), for example, uses sustainability guidelines to carry out its audits, while shearers are trained according to the guidelines of the NWGA (National Wool Growers Association). She was touched by the passion and devotion of the South African farmers and workers in the industry and their respectful treatment of the goats. Of course, this does not alter the fact that each individual incident involving animal cruelty is unacceptable and that tough action needs to be taken against it.

Yet, Reina did encounter another injustice: the low wages of the shearers and sorters working on the farms. It became clear that big steps are still needed when it comes to viable wages. Based on these experiences, The Knitwit Stable has made a documentary: ‘From goat to garment part1’.

The response of the fashion giants, based on one video by PETA – which, incidentally, has officially stated that its study is not representative for the entire sector, – is symptomatic of the way the fashion industry works. Big brands make rash decisions and in doing so, they directly dupe almost 1000 South African farmers and 30,000 people employed in the mohair industry. Instead of killing off an entire industry, it would be a sign of responsibility and partnership if they would enter into discussion with the farmers and factories in South Africa and would help them to meet the requirements regarding animal welfare and sustainability with training courses, information and financial support.

This raises the question why the fashion giants have made this decision, from which they themselves will not suffer any direct harm. A ban on mohair provides a simple and short-sighted way to make them look good in in the eyes of the consumer. Yet, they simply ignore the fact that their decision will cause the loss of jobs and income for thousands of people. They will also be responsible for the collapse of a craft and the destruction of an entire industry.

On the other hand, the fashion giants take far too few structural measures to bring about viable wages for the millions of workers in low-wage countries such as South Africa and Bangladesh. During a research trip of Reina Ovinge of The Knitwit Stable to Bangladesh, in November 2017, it became painfully clear once again that the fashion brands only increase their demands regarding sustainability and the price pressure, without paying one cent extra for it.

As long as the fashion industry does not take any basic responsibility for the environmental pollution, abuses of both humans and animals within the chain and the payment of viable wages, this will lead to rash and half-baked decisions. The ban on mohair is a striking example of this. This kind of decisions only serves to appease the consumer, action groups and NGOs. Sadly, this will not bring about any major change in the fashion industry.

About Reina Ovinge

Reina Ovinge has more than 25 years of experience in the ‘knitwear’ fashion industry. After selling her successful company Fully Fashion, with which she produced millions of garments for brands and large retailers, she decided to dive deep into the mohair production chain. This resulted in the start of The Knitwit Stable, a place to work and get inspired for fashion professionals in the knitting sector. She uses her own machines to produce yarn, merino and mohair from her angora goats and sheep in a sustainable way.

The process of making a sweater from the wool of goats and sheep is long, takes place far away and lacks transparency. With the aid of her animals and knitting machines and by means of master classes, Reina shares her passion and knowledge acquired with students and professionals in the fashion industry. All proceeds are used for research, knowledge development, training courses and investments to bring about greater sustainability, awareness and transparency in the fashion industry.

Her research on the origins of wool has resulted in the brand TREK&TREES, a collection of warm, woollen winter vests, sweaters, wraparounds, shawls, beanies and gloves. In The Knitwit Stable’s mini factory, the clothing is knitted and tailored to order.

For more information and footage about The Knitwit Stable and to request the entire documentary: Reina Ovinge, +31 6 19 93 81 05, reina@theknitwitstable.nl https://theknitwitstable.nl/