Following the Perfect Jumper thread

September 08, 2022

Back from South Africa, Constance takes the time to tell us about her meeting with the Merino sheep farmers and discuss traceability at the heart of knowing everything about the Perfect Jumper.

In February, Pierre and Constance from our office were invited to South Africa by the chaps at Segard Masurel (our top-notch wool traders) for a deep dive into the supply chain behind the Perfect Jumper.

Traceability is a word we use a lot. You may have noticed… It’s central to our mission: tracking the footprint of everything we produce, finding out all there is to know about our partners, and delving into the manufacturing processes involved. We take it seriously so that you can rest easy. Good deal, right?

Ahead of the release of our Perfect Jumper, now in its eighth version, we took the time to quiz Constance about a few traceability bits and bobs…

Hi Constance, how are you doing?
Very well. We’re gearing up to release new items for men’s and women’s wear. I’m excited to see how it’ll all come out.

Before we get into the traceability nitty gritty, tell us a bit about yourself and the team.
I’m in charge of buying and production, as well as tracking Asphalte’s impact. I’ve been here for four years now. These days I work with a team of three: Albane, Pauline and Servane. We are focused on sourcing the right materials—that means top quality at a fair price. We want to put out the best products at the best price possible and get them to our customers as efficiently as we can within the preorder model. In short, I work on measuring our impact and reducing it.

What is it about your work on traceability that you enjoy?
I love the fact that Asphalte doesn’t work like other companies. Whether we’re talking about production or the social and environmental aspects of things, we’re always trying to come up with better ways of making our clothes, like trailblazers happily stepping off the beaten path. We keep setting ourselves new challenges so that we can outperform ourselves. And that’s true for traceability too, where we do everything we can to be informed about where all the materials used come from.

So that’s why Pierre and you went to South Africa?
Yes! Pierre, head of knitwear, and I travelled with our wool trader Segard Masurel to meet the sheep farmers that supply the merino wool used for our Perfect Jumpers.

The markets for raw materials usually run through huge international networks, with loads of middlemen involved. That often makes it quite hard to track the origins of the materials.

But we were determined to find out everything we could about what we use, so we worked hard to get our hands on some 100% traceable wool. Thanks to the trip we now know each farmer who sells us the wool we use, we can point their farms out on the map. Knowing them like this helps us guarantee that Asphalte’s social and environmental requirements on the farms we work with —including animal welfare— are being met.

It was a real treat to get to do this sort of ground-level traceability work.

What else did you do in South Africa?
We got to visit the farms and see how the wool was auctioned off, and we also got to talk with the farmers about how they operate.

We shared our hopes for the future of farming and had great discussions about how we could encourage a more sustainable way of doing things. It was a very fruitful process for us, but for the farmers too, I think.

We often talk about traceability at Asphalte, why is this important?
The textile industry is very opaque. Supply chains are global and batches are regularly mixed together. So it’s very difficult to be able to guarantee the origin of the materials we consume.

If social and environmental standards were as high as we’d like, and we could monitor them around the world, this wouldn’t be a problem. But sadly this is not the case. As a result, the only way we can be sure of what is going on is to know who’s involved. That way, we can check audits, certifications or labels, or even visit the sites to see how they work.

At Asphalte, we don’t just want to sell clothes differently. We want to make them differently: to produce them while taking into consideration all the work that goes into them, and the environmental stress generated by every step along the way. These are things that have largely been put aside with the rise of fast fashion. Being able to trace a product properly is a key starting point. It's also great to change the whole "supplier vs client" dynamic and create a real partnership: a trusting relationship between all our partners and us.

Were you surprised by any of the things that happened during the trip?
The breeders were very happy to see the finished product! It's crazy, but they usually have no idea what happens to the wool they export. They work like crazy to make the best quality wool, but never see the product that comes out of it, can you believe it?

And yes, before you ask, we gave them Perfect Jumpers so that they too could experience the pleasure of wearing their extra fine Merino wool! They even asked us to set up a shop in the area.

What did you enjoy the most?
If I had to choose one thing, I think it would be visiting the wool producer that was run in keeping with regenerative farming ideas.

For decades the owner had been applying holistic management to his farm and training local farmers to take up the practice. He managed to get through a seven-year drought without any problems. I was already sold on this type of farming and was actively looking to expand our sourcing with regenerative agriculture in mind, so I was delighted to see this case study in action, displaying the direct environmental benefits and concrete financial gains regenerative farming can offer.

Why do we go to South Africa to get wool? Isn’t there any wool in France?
Yes, we have wool in France but the climate doesn't allow us to get the micron measures and fibre lengths that we are looking for for the Perfect Jumper.

You have to go to Australia, New Zealand or South Africa for that. We’ve used 100% traced Merinos d'Arles wool before, for our Sailor’s Jumper. But the hand isn’t the same at all, it's "rougher" and for the Perfect Jumper, we wanted something with a super soft texture so that it can be worn close to the skin.

We chose to work with farms in South Africa because of their guarantees of traceability as well as assurances they offer about social, environmental and animal welfare. It’s important to understand that unless shipped by plane, the distance travelled has very little overall environmental impact for textiles. The most important factors are things like dyeing and spinning, for a jumper.

Our take is therefore to be aware of what is happening along the supply chain and to try to reduce the impact where we can. But we didn’t want to opt-out of getting wool from South Africa if its super soft feel and high quality will make for a jumper you might wear all the time.

That’s when quality, durability and sustainability go hand in hand!

What are the next steps? What are you working on at the moment?
I would like to replicate the traceability success we had with our wool with all the fibres we work on. It's not an easy task, but I'm confident we'll get there!

Anything to add?

I'm pleased that we are talking more about traceability! It’s something I'm passionate about, which is too often put to one side in this industry!

We talk about it when there are scandals and then we forget that a t-shirt being sold for five euros can only mean one thing: that it was made in dreadful social and environmental conditions.

My job is exciting, but pushing for sustainability and traceability in this industry can often feel like a David against Goliath struggle. So, thank you for giving visibility to our efforts!

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