Conserving Wildlife One Sweater At A Time

wildlife friendly

Guanacos in Península Valdés. Photo credit: Ricardo Baldi.

LONDON, United Kingdom — On Península Valdés in Patagonia, which is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, there are very few residents, but plenty of ranchers tending to sheep and goats. They also share their land with loads of wildlife. Guanacos, which are similar to llamas, rheas, which are related to ostriches, and maras, rodents that resemble miniature deer, wander in and out of ranches, sharing food and water with the livestock. Predators such as pumas occasionally pounce through the pastures, seeking a tasty meal.

But these critters often cause problems for ranchers who tend the sheep that are a source of wool used in sweaters, hats and scarves. They often deplete resources, and predators can kill the flocks. As a result, ranchers have taken lethal measures against wildlife in the past to protect their livestock. However, recently ranchers in Patagonia and conservation organisations including the Wildlife Conservation Society Argentina and the Wildlife Friendly Enterprise Network came together with a shared goal of conserving wildlife in the region while ensuring a quality wool product from the sheep.

wildlife friendly

Packaged certified Wildlife Friendly TM wool. Photo credit: Ricardo Baldi.

Designing Wildlife Friendly TM Wool

This traceable Wildlife Friendly TM wool is now available for designers to purchase and use in their clothing lines. In fact, Sarah Chojecki, who owns the fashion line Bolek and studied at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, partnered with the wildlife conservation organisations to create sustainable, Wildlife Friendly TM clothing with this wool.

“I was looking for something that felt real,” Chojecki said. “Anything I tell my customers I have to be convinced of its source in order to sell it.”

Traceability of Fabrics

Chojecki credits her deep roots in fashion to her grandfather, a designer in Warsaw, Poland. She watched him do fittings for people as a child and was fascinated by fabrics and textures of material.

However, when she began clothing design and creation, she realised there was no traceability of fabrics in the garment district. In an effort to understand more about sustainability and Wildlife Friendly TM clothing products, Chojecki researched organisations that support the environment and sustainable clothing. She found The Wildlife Friendly Enterprise Network  and soon began working with them on this project.

Chojecki plans to launch her clothing line in Autumn 2017. The line will include menswear and womenswear including sweaters, beanies and socks made of the comfortable, breathable wool, she said. The clothing also will be offered in natural colours since Chojecki wants to make sure dyes are ecologically friendly before using them in her designs.

As a designer, it’s more fun to design with limitations because you have to be creative.

How Wildlife Friendly TM Works

The Wildlife Friendly Enterprise Network formed in 2007 to help people coexist with wildlife. The organisation developed criteria for different projects in order for them to be considered Wildlife Friendly TM. While visiting Argentina for another project, Executive Director and Co-founder of the Wildlife Friendly Enterprise Network Julie Stein witnessed livestock-wildlife conflicts and decided to partner with the Wildlife Conservation Society Argentina to help ranchers deal with this complex problem.

As part of the project, they are working with six ranchers on the peninsula to make sure they are maintaining a good number of sheep. They are promoting that ranchers calculate the proper number of sheep on their ranches to maintain space and resources for wildlife as well, according to Susan Walker, a consultant with the Wildlife Conservation Society Argentina.

The two organisations are also promoting the idea that wildlife should be allowed to move through fences to get to water sources as the area is arid and using things like livestock guard dogs to scare away predators rather than kill them. Pumas are specifically a threat to sheep as they have recolonized the area over the past 20 years after their population numbers had previously declined.

“Consumers have a lot of influence to empower companies to improve their sourcing demand for Wildlife Friendly TM products,” Stein said. “We don’t want to have certification for the sake of certification. We want to use it as a tool to get conservation done. There’s magic, hope and possibility in what we are doing.”

Courtesy of: Sarah Chojecki, Julie Stein and Susan Walker | Photography by: Ricardo Baldi | Websites: wildlifefriendly.org and argentina.wcs.org

Dana Kobilinsky About the author

A science writer who is passionate about wildlife conservation with a special interest in how this relates to the fashion industry. With a bachelor's degree in journalism, Dana is excited to use her writing skills to spread the word about issues relating to science and conservation around the world.

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