Sustainable Cashmere: The Story of Mongolia

Based on traditional pastoralist livelihoods, the cashmere and wool sector is a key driver of the Mongolian economy and second only to the extractive industries. It is, however, facing challenges due to increased competition from foreign processors. In the past 4 years, our STeP EcoLab Mongolia project shared knowledge on social and environmental standards with Mongolian wool processors and cashmere herders. We supported them in implementing the newly-acquired practices as well as in communicating the value of sustainable Mongolian cashmere to European and global consumers.

The journey started in 2018 with a comprehensive assessment of the Mongolian wool and cashmere value chain. Herders as well as processors were involved in the analysis, yielding a thorough view on the sustainability risks and opportunities of the sector. The onsite assessment was complemented by an analysis on market demands as well as established sustainability communication instruments that could serve as guidance.

This assessment served as the foundation for the development of several capacity building formats, involving all relevant actors of the value chain and with a focus on linkages to other actors up- or downstream. By connecting the industry’s huge innovation potential with the sustainability demands of European and global target markets, first sustainable product lines were drafted.

In order to improve the industry’s sustainability performance in the long term, a voluntary code of practice (VCP) was developed with industry stakeholders. The document was signed by 18 companies, among them the leading Mongolian companies for wool and cashmere production. The aim of this VCP was ambitious: On one hand, the focus was to increase the sustainability of cashmere production and, on the other hand, to convert the business model according to criteria of established European cashmere sustainability standards.

To ensure that the roadmap defined in the VCP leads to more sustainable value chains, the new practices must be accepted by the market. To raise awareness, the project team worked with relevant stakeholders to develop a label to communicate the efforts of Mongolian cashmere producers to European consumers.

In 2020, the main stakeholders in Mongolia’s Wool and Cashmere sector joined forces as one exhibitor at the Première Vision, the world’s leading trade show for textiles and fibres. The sector put an emphasis on the uniqueness of sustainable, authentic nomadic farming practices and their high value products.

The European consumer demand for sustainable products is on the rise and aspects such as circularity need to be thought through wool and cashmere as well. Moreover, the implementation of a certification scheme for sustainable nomadic practices needs to continue and be further advanced. The CSCP project team is exploring ways to tackle these targets in our upcoming work.

For further information, please contact Pawel Zylka.