The popularity of books like Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Eating Animals” and the propensity of environmentally-focused companies to bring animal issues into the conversation with customers suggests a growing curiosity about how animals are affected by purchases.
But how many people are concerned with the treatment of animals whose wool is utilized to make their garments? About 75,000 people, according to New Zealand clothing manufacturer Icebreaker. That’s the number of visitors and registrants who have surfed to the company’s Baacode page.
Twelve months ago, Icebreaker launched the playfully named Baacode, which is an amalgam of the sound a sheep makes with the word barcode. The system allows people to trace the merino wool in their garment back through the supply chain to the farms in New Zealand’s Southern Alps where it was grown.
Online, Baacode allows you to virtually meet the growers and see inside the factories where the wool is cleaned, spun and sewn into garments.
Traceability is increasingly used in the food industry, but it is very rarely available in clothing. But much of the environmental damage caused by the garment industry is the result of manufacturers buying cheap fabric from middle men without taking any responsibility for how the fabric was made, according to Icebreaker.
Icebreaker said it invested more than US$400,000 in software design and systems improvements to allow for the launch of Baacode. The company hopes to keep its processes transparent and prove its commitment to sustainability and ethical manufacturing with the Baacode system. “Baacode proves that consumers do care about where and how their products are made,” says Jeremy Moon, Icebreaker Founder and CEO.
For its farms, Icebreaker has stringent guidelines for the treatment of sheep and sheepdogs. It requires its manufacturing partners to demonstrate strong business ethics. Manufacturers must respect their workers and provide them with a “caring, community environment” that includes good natural light, clean air and healthy working conditions, Icebreaker says. Workers must be paid above the prevailing minimum wage in an area and given meals or offered accommodation at remote farms if necessary.
To see Icebreaker’s Baacode in action, go to http://www.icebreaker.com/site/baacode/index.html
—Stephen Krcmar lives and works in Mammoth Lakes, Calif.