Textile Exchange obtained support in the European outdoor industry as it launched the Responsible Wool Standard (RWS) at the OutDoor fair, predicting that products using the standard could already be in the market by the second half of next year.

The RWS was developed by the Textile Exchange with extensive input from farmers, brand owners and many other stakeholders. It focuses on animal welfare as well as broader issues of land management. The organization was at the OutDoor fair to explain the workings and benefits of the RWS, and a training session was organized for brands in Munich on Monday. More than 20 attendees turned up, as well as speakers who flew in from Argentina, New Zealand and Uruguay, among others. The next session of this kind will be held at the Outdoor Retailer show in Salt Lake City on August 1.

Textile Exchange previously developed the Responsible Down Standard (RDS), which is already used by 72 brands, including 39 from the outdoor industry. Mark Held, general secretary of the European Outdoor Group (EOG), explained that the standards are most efficient to benchmark responsible practices and communicate about them. More than 40 brands were involved in the Textile Exchange's international working group in the last two years, and the organization reported strong interest from the outdoor industry.

Jeremy Moon, founder of Icebreaker, was on hand at the Textile Exchange's presentation in Friedrichshafen to support these efforts and explain his own commitment to ethical standards. He said a turning point in New Zealand came with the switch to longer-term contracts with farmers, which gave them some certainty about prospective earnings and thus allowed them to invest in the sustainability of their production. Icebreaker has had direct contracts with New Zealand merino sheep growers since 1997. Its merino suppliers are audited through an independent third party.

Moon later said that Icebreaker would not be adopting the RWS, because the company already meets or exceeds every standard, and that Icebreaker already stands for ethical wool and an ethical supply chain. He added that Icebreaker will strive to communicate these standards more efficiently when its site is upgraded in September.

The RWS standard is designed for all wool from farm-raised sheep and is meant to be adaptable for other stakeholders, such as meat-oriented farmers. It has been adjusted to the situation of farmers in a variety of geographic and economic conditions. The standard is most stringent on animal welfare, less so for land management, which is a more complex and multi-faceted issue. The launch party was sponsored by the EOG and Messe Friedrichshafen.