Today is World Environment Day declared by the United Nations and Mongolia is its global host. The country may not be on everyone’s radar – nor does it usually make onto major fashion destinations lists – but hosting global environmental celebrations offers a great opportunity to learn more about the land of legendary Genghis Khan.
To start with, Mongolia supplies 90% of cashmere sold worldwide. This extra-soft wool from the underbelly of mountain goats is a luxury fibre which has grown increasingly popular over the years. This rising demand fuelled the breeding of cashmere goats and, as a result, wreaked havoc across many fragile environments in Asian countries that produce the prized wool.
“What were once beautiful, unspoilt grasslands are now becoming deserts, ravished by the goats breed for their cashmere clip. This is now creating a devastating effect on the ecological balance of the planet. The impact is more visible in Mongolia,” writes Fibre2fashion.com.
However it seems the country is now trying to improve its environmental record through sweeping initiatives aimed at promoting a greener economy. For instance, it has recently passed a moratorium on all new mining concessions. This is especially significant considering that mining accounts for 90% of Mongolia’s exports.
Furthermore, the country has launched a marketing campaign with the goal of giving Mongolian cashmere the same cachet as French wine and German cars, reports Bloomberg.
And, in the case of cashmere, there are some laudable initiatives to learn from. For example, Argentina’s Grupo Costa del Río Colorado has joined forces with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) to produce ‘green cashmere’, which respects the local environment.
According to WCS, the group’s sustainable practices include adjusting herd sizes to match the carrying capacity of the lands the goats graze, improving the health status of herds, and using guard dogs to minimize livestock-wildlife conflicts with predators such as the Andean cat.
In Italy, Sustainable Cashmere adheres to strict environmental management and animal welfare standards in producing its own brand of ‘Chianti cashmere’, and also promotes local employment by working with Tuscan farmers and weavers.
Ultimately, the only way for cashmere to remain a luxury commodity is to embrace sustainability, says Richard Smith, a cashmere industry expert.
“The cheap cashmere bonanza will inevitably end as the grasslands so necessary for healthy goats continue to be denuded. […] As a limited natural resource perhaps cashmere was never intended for mass market consumption as has occurred in the last ten years or so. Prices fall, quality falls, the status of the product falls and all in the name of making more money in the shortest space of time. This is destined to end in disaster which will affect everyone involved in the supply chain – from herders, to merchants, to buyers, to yarn and material manufacturers, to designers eventually hitting the manufacturing plants in Scotland and Italy where the finest cashmere items are created,” he writes.
Last but not least, Mongolia is starting to influence global fashion trends. For example, leading eco-luxury fashion brand Maiyet used the country as the inspiration for its Pre-Fall 2013 collection, “Brancusi’s Mongolia”, which blends the minimalism of the modernist sculptor Constantin Brâncuși with Mongolia’s rich landscapes and traditional costumes.
I hope that Mongolia and other countries around the world can find a happy balance between the demands of fashion and those of the environment, and uphold the unique cultural traditions and craftsmanship that are associated with both.
Happy World Environment Day, everyone!