Alex Begg’s ambition has always been to produce garments of the highest quality and the company is proud to meet stringent and demanding standards. But even the best practices can benefit from innovation.
The Board of Alex Begg requested the company to look into the possibilities of traceable cashmere. As a result Alex Begg has pioneered the tracing of Mongolian cashmere. A demanding and complicated task, given how cashmere is produced and sourced.
“For other fibres there are well established procedures for control and follow up of the sourcing process,” Ian Whiteford, Sustainability Manager at Alex Begg, explains and continues: “Traceability of the sheep’s wool and angora fibres the company uses is excellent. The wool, generally Australian merino, is brought to a well-regulated market and each stage of production must be certified. Angora – in our case sourced from certified farms – has a similarly transparent path to spinner and then to market.”
Alex Begg's cashmere is sourced from herders in remote areas of Mongolia and China. Each herder only produces a small amount of wool, so fibres from many herders are mixed before being sent to be cleaned and separated.
Fibres from different sources – and sometimes from different separation processes – may then be further mixed.
“The water can become rather muddy, and there are no binding standards or controls in place. It is hard to say with certainty from where the material for a certain scarf or cloth is sourced. Or if it is produced sustainably.”
“Since 2016, we are working with the Sustainable Fibre Alliance (SFA), a coalition that aims to improve environmental resilience in cashmere-producing regions, enhance long-term prospects for herding communities reliant on cashmere markets and assure animal welfare.”
Membership of the SFA has given Alex Begg access to Mongolia that it previously lacked. Whiteford and his colleagues have visited the country several times to meet suppliers and agents that subscribe to the SFA’s Code of Conduct.
Alex Begg has thereafter established the unique CapraCare process, which aims to find ways to source cashmere yarn ethically, sustainably and traceably.
The goal is for the cashmere fibres used by the company to be produced sustainably, which means ensuring that goats do not live in overcrowded conditions that degrade the land, that scouring and dehairing is done using only certified chemicals and that it is possible to see where the yarn has been from start to finished product.
“In 2018 we made a breakthrough, being able to source cashmere that was traceable. The key is of course to set up systems for validating the quality of the materials and establish relationships with key partners.”
The CapraCare Fibre now represents 15% in all 100% cashmere yarns produced in the UK for Begg. In 2019, a clear route to traceability is in place in the CapraCare programme – a milestone achievement, although there remains much to be done if the company is to have 100% CapraCare Fibre and get consistent quality.
This way of working is still in its early phase, but Alex Begg’s vision is to allow customers to continue to buy beautiful cloth and garments in the knowledge that their purchase impacts the cashmere market positively – as well as the lives of those who depend on it.