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Ferney Spinning Mills: Sustainable Future

In: Textile | December 2018

Mauritius-based wool yarn producer Ferney Spinning Mills is aiming to capitalise on the growing demand for wool products through a range of new initiatives. Twist spoke to the company’s general manager Mushtaq Sooltangos to find out about the company’s plans.

Wool is the heart and soul of Ferney Spinning Mills. The company was founded in Mauritius in 1978 and inaugurated in January 1979, and general manager Mushtaq Sooltangos says that “for the last 40 years what has really characterised Ferney is our obsession with wool.”

The key strength of the company has been its development of high performance carded woollen yarns for the knitting and weaving markets. These include its range of yarns suitable for Total Easy Care treatment, which Ferney developed with its sister company Floreal Knitwear. Sooltangos describes this yarn as “the jewel in Ferney’s crown.”

Ferney offers carded woollen yarns in pure Merino, wool and wool blends across fine and coarse counts, ranging from Nm 2 to 26, for both knitwear and woven fabrics. Blends include wool with luxury fibres such as cashmere and silk, as well as wool with synthetic fibres. Ferney Spinning Mill employs around 430 people, with a production capacity of 1,500 tons of yarn per year, and has a wide range of customers based in the UK, Europe, Madagascar, Bangladesh and North America.

The company has always been looking for ways to add value, starting right from the raw material, and Sooltangos says that the story of Ferney has been built around what he calls its “wool identity.”

“Our approach has always been to buy the best wools from the best sources as per customer requirements, and engineer the best yarns to give value to the client,” he says.

“In the yarns we propose to the market there is a very wide variety of wool and wool blends for the different markets and product segments.”

He adds that the company works closely with its customers to provide complete transparency on the fibres being used.

“With our main customers we have a collaborative approach where we share all the information on the wools we use and their performances,” he says. “This process is done in full transparency.”

Today 80% of the virgin wool sourced by Ferney is of non-mulesed origin, according to the company.

And Sooltangos reveals that Ferney is now using a wider range of wools from different countries, with the company sourcing from South America, Australia, China, New Zealand, Eastern Europe and Egypt, “from reliable wool suppliers.”

From New Zealand Ferney buys the coarser micron crossbred wools, while for the finer mid and fine micron wools that Ferney traditionally bought from Australia, the company is now sourcing these mainly from South America. “This is a strategic move that has greatly helped Ferney in the last two years in terms of competitiveness,” says Sooltangos.

“Our strategy in wool buying is to develop a worldwide network of good suppliers.”

He adds that this approach is borne from China’s impact on the global wool market. “In the wool trade today China is dominant and is the master of the game,” he explains. “Their regional strategy is to control amongst other resources the wool business in Australia and New Zealand. As the main buyer of wool in the world they have too much leverage in the area and they throw their weight around and the wool prices vary according to their buying patterns. “China, with its centralised national decision making-process, moulds itself into a very disruptive buyer that flouts the laws of supply and demand with monopolistic behaviour. At the other end of the chain the real market can only support a certain level of price and in time it corrects any imbalance.

“But in this process many players are thrown out of the market, many lose market share, some markets crash, players run out of cash and the price of wool is disrupted. The cashmere, lambswool and Shetland businesses have gone through these cycles lately with brutal decisions from Chinese buyers.”

He adds: “Foreseeing this at Ferney we have diversified our supplier base for all types of wool.”

As well as its wider range of sources for raw wool, Ferney is now also proposing to its customers wools which have a specific provenance: Viking Wool, British Wool, Patagonia Wool, Punta Arenas Wool and Gotland Wool.

Growth targets

Ferney’s diversification of its wool supply forms part of the company’s plans to expand significantly in both the knitting and weaving sectors over the next few years.

With the UK a key market for Ferney, Sooltangos reveals that the company reduced its production capacity following the Brexit vote of 2016, when, as he observes, “the UK knitwear market went through a crisis, with uncertainty and volatility.”

However, he says that Ferney is now targeting total growth globally of 10% in volume terms for the coming season. “Further growth is planned as we bring in new potential customers over the next three years.”

He adds that Ferney is now aiming to become a leading supplier in both the weaving and knitting sectors worldwide.

In order to achieve this it is expanding its product portfolio and focusing increasingly on the higher end of the market.

“Both the knitting and weaving sectors of the wool market are moving to the middle and upper segments as wool is now a luxury fibre,” he explains. “There is more demand for both performance and ‘emotional’ products – products with a soft handle, well designed and with a unique visual appearance and colour / stitch construction.”

Knitting

For the knitting industry Ferney supplies woollen yarns mainly for knitwear, knitted accessories and knitted footwear. The company showcases these yarns at both Pitti Filati and Première Vision Paris. Going forward, Sooltangos says that for the knitting sector Ferney is focusing on noble emotional yarns, blended yarns for performance knitwear and sustainable yarns, including recycled. Ferney is aiming to do this through the use of its yarns by Floreal Knitwear as well as independently. “Ferney is developing upmarket customers in Europe and the USA with Floreal Knitwear, building a regional market with knitwear manufacturers in Mauritius and Madagascar, and building a market in Europe for our knitwear yarns,” he explains.

And he says that through its work with Floreal Knitwear, Ferney is “redefining our wool identity to meet the new market requirements and future demand. Our strategy is to go upmarket into the wool niche for quality and performance sweaters.” He adds: “The strategy is also to look at the wool customers of the future. Wool as a fibre answers perfectly the needs and wishes of the millennials who are looking at products characterised by quality, performance, innovation, sustainability, transparency and ethics. In that process Ferney is pioneering with wools blended with new innovative performance fibres.” He says that Ferney and Floreal Knitwear are also aiming to redefine the fits, designs, finishes and colours for wool sweaters for millennials. These products will be on show on the Ferney booth at Pitti Filati in January and Première Vision Paris in February.

Weaving

For the weaving industry Ferney supplies woollen yarns mainly for woven apparel, upholstery, accessories, blankets, footwear and transport fabrics. “Ferney has a diversified customer base in all these market segments,” says Sooltangos. “Our customers are also very busy redefining their wool business and innovating to face the market challenges. Ferney is supporting and servicing their new projects in wool and wool blends.”

At Première Vision Paris Ferney is actively looking for new mid and upmarket customers in the UK, Europe and the USA in the weaving sector, and Sooltangos reveals that Ferney now has a stock service for basic lambswool and Shetland yarns for the Italian weaving market.

He also notes that the use of wool yarns in the weaving sector is growing in home textiles, interior design and upholstery, while there is also a push at the upper end of the market to use wool and wool blends for automotive upholstery and flooring. “Ferney is now contemplating the idea of showing our yarns at Filo in Milan or a transport fabric show to cover more actively these pioneering areas,” he says.

Customer support

Sooltangos stresses that in both the knitting and weaving markets Ferney works closely with its customers throughout the journey of each yarn, from design to delivery.

“Our first service is our yarn collection, which we develop for the market with Stylprojet of Treviso, Italy,” he explains. Stylprojet is a consultancy service for yarn design and colour forecasting. “With Stylprojet the yarn and colour development is done in very close collaboration with Ferney and our customers. Our products reflect the market trends within the price point of the market segments our customers operate, so our yarn collections and colours proposed are very relevant to our customers. About 60% of the colours Ferney customers choose come from our colour cards.”

Another core strength for Ferney is wool dyeing. In 1979 Ferney set up its own wool tops dyeing plant. “Our mastery of colours gives life to wool, with unique hues that are developed with a mix of in-house expertise in wool dyeing and Italian savoir-faire in the colour forecasting from Stylprojet,” says Sooltangos. “Over the years Ferney has innovated in wool dyeing and yarn engineering with foreign and local expertise through a lot of cross-fertilisation.”

For its weaving customers in the UK, Ferney also has a consignment delivery service based in Bradford which delivers orders within 24 hours on receipt of order. The stock is held in a custom-bonded warehouse. “This has been a great success and reduced our time to market cycle,” says Sooltangos. “In addition, with a special airfreight scheme we have increased our speed to market.”

Sustainability

While it aims for significant growth, sustainability remains a key part of Ferney’s company ethos.

“Looking at the global situation today Ferney can rightly conclude that man in his greed and eagerness to realise his egotistic objective is destroying the natural, social and economic environment,” says Sooltangos. “The question that a business like Ferney has to answer today is how to move out smartly from that destructive race and build a future sustainable and profitable business in the wool niche market. Wool as a natural organic product is already a good and true story on sustainability.”

Sooltangos points to a number of initiatives which Ferney has undertaken to capitalise on the natural story of wool and complement this with its own efforts around sustainability. And he observes that Ferney is in many ways ahead of its time in this respect.

“In the 1990’s Ferney took the bold decision to create an artificial reservoir to harvest rainwater as it is in a rainy area,” he explains. The company also collects water from nearby rivers to fill the reservoir, which has enough capacity to sustain three weeks of water consumption on its site. Sooltangos says that 75% of the water usage at Ferney is from natural water harvesting, with 25% coming from the national water distribution network. Ferney also installed a fibre recycling facility at its plant in the 1990’s. This processes wool waste fibres and sweaters from Floreal Knitwear for in-house use. Ferney is also recycling cotton fibres for a local denim factory, producing open-end (OE) yarns with 35% recycled fibres. Further sustainability initiatives over recent years include:

  • The installation of two Stalam radio frequency low temperature dryers to reduce carbon emissions.
  • Investment in the latest winder from Schlafhorst – the Autoconer X6; and the latest two-for-one twisting machine from Volkmann. Both are very low energy consuming machines.
  • Installation of two capacitor banks to stabilise power factor on electricity consumption (0.97/0.98).
  • Reduction of water consumption in the wool dyeing process by 50 litres/kg through using recovery water.
  • Automation of the existing dyeing machines with in-house engineering, reducing water spillage and steam/electricity consumption.
  • Installation of solar water heating panels for the pre-heating of water for the dye house. • The use of porcelain isolation coating to reduce heat loss in the dyeing vessels, to reduce the use of steam.
  • The use of LED lights of 120W to replace 400W lights. “Ferney is continuously investing in new equipment which is not energy hungry,” says Sooltangos.

The company is also meeting the demands of a growing range of certification bodies. Ciel Textile Group, Ferney’s parent company, is now a corporate member of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), and Ferney, as a unit of Ciel Textile, is directly involved in this project.

Sooltangos explains that Ferney is deploying the SAC’s Higg Facility Environmental Module (Higg FEM), a standardised tool to assess its environmental impact, which its customers can easily access. “The aim of the Higg FEM is to drive transparency and allow businesses to rationalise and have comparable results that are clear, useful to the consumer, the brand and the intermediaries,” he says. “By setting clear objectives and targets, the whole industry can thereby contribute by reducing their environmental footprint every year.”

Ferney is certified in line with Oeko-Tex Standard 100; has certification from the EU Ecolabel for wool and wool blend yarns; and also has non-mulesed wool certificates from its main wool suppliers.

Sooltangos says that Ferney is now aiming to establish sustainability as an integral part of Ferney’s identity. “We will highlight our environmental credentials at the next editions of Pitti Filati and Première Vision Paris,” he says.

He adds that future projects include the development of a wide range of sustainable yarns with recycled fibres including wool, cashmere, nylon, polyester and viscose, while Ferney is also considering investing in photovoltaic panels to make its wool and finished goods warehouse autonomous in its energy use.

Textile trade fairs

Ferney is now exhibiting at a growing range of textile trade fairs to support its expansion plans. The company has exhibited in the last five years, on and off, at Spinexpo Shanghai, New York and Paris, and at the last three editions of Première Vision Paris. It also debuted at Pitti Filati in June 2018 and will be exhibiting there again in January 2019.

“Ferney has decided that going forward we will participate at both Pitti Filati and Première Vision Paris for spring/summer and autumn/winter,” says Sooltangos.

“These fairs help us to position ourselves strategically in the market segments that Ferney has chosen to expand or penetrate. The focus on these shows is to help make Ferney a leading supplier in both the knitwear and woven industries in Europe and the US. Participating at these fairs widens Ferney’s vision of the textile business and can better develop our vision and strategy for the future.”

Commenting specifically on the value for Ferney of exhibiting at Première Vision Paris, he adds: “The show is fantastic for the woven wool apparel business. Our main existing customers and potential new prospects also exhibit there. The UK, Italian, Portuguese, Turkish and other exhibitors give to Ferney the opportunity to fully understand and gauge the depth and expanse of the business. And the customer flow is good.”

He adds: “Ferney’s main knitwear yarn buyers are also present at Première Vision Paris.” Ferney participates in the Trend Forum in the Knitwear Solutions area at the show with the UK knitwear design consultancy Sophie Steller. Sooltangos also stresses the importance

of Pitti Filati. “This show is an exclusive and prestigious club of spinners in the knitwear trade,” he says. “Ferney applied for participation for the June 2018 edition and its candidature was approved unanimously. Pitti sets the future trends for the knitwear business. The show is literally feeling and touching the future of the knitwear business in the next 12 to 24 months in the mid and upper knitwear market. For the ladieswear market there is no better place.”

He adds: “At Pitti Filati Ferney fully understood that it can become a leading supplier. Our main customers from the UK and France were present, and we positioned ourselves with three prestigious potential new customers at the show.” He also notes that the main knitwear manufacturers from Madagascar and Mauritius visited the Ferney booth at Pitti Filati. “Ferney now better understands its mission as the last carded woollen spinner in its region,” he says.

He adds: “The networking at Pitti Filati in June was fantastic – meeting, exchanging and sharing with the most experienced families and individuals in its trade is unique. Ferney has always favoured an expansive view of our mission. The carded woollen business is now a small club, and the focus of the exchanges was how to consolidate this with mutual cooperation rather than cut-throat competition.”

Wool market challenges

As it looks to push for growth over the coming years, Sooltangos points to wool prices as a key challenge it will need to continue to overcome.

“The sheep business is divided between wool and meat,” he observes. “As the meat and wool prices vary there is always the temptation for the farmer to sell his sheep as protein or to sell the wool fibre. The farmer has a choice and wool is a very small player in the textile business.”

He adds: “For the last years wool prices for the finer microns have shot up and the prices of the coarser wools have gone down.”

Looking ahead, Sooltangos notes that “the climatic changes driven by global warming will be a key factor affecting wool supply, with extreme dry weather or floods that adversely affect wool and meat production. And the Chinese as the future main buyers will be very disruptive both in the meat and the wool business as they are big players in both segments. So from this premise all the actors in the wool textile supply chain have to protect themselves from uncertainty and volatility.”

He adds that Ferney is aiming to tackle such challenges in four key ways. “To mitigate these risks Ferney needs, firstly, an intelligent geographical segmentation of wool supply and diversification of suppliers. Secondly, we need to continuously competitively re-engineer our yarns with our main partners in the knitting and weaving industries. Thirdly, we have to work on blends of wool with cheaper man-made fibres. And fourthly, we need to innovate and pioneer the development of woollen yarns blended with performance fibres.”

Opportunities

Despite challenges such as those posed by the wool market, Sooltangos believes that Ferney can capitalise on each of the opportunities it is targeting. “In all adverse conditions there are always many opportunities,” he says. “The challenge for the wool carding market players like Ferney is how to grow in a shrinking market where many players are moving out. Growth strategy in such conditions will be conditional on investing resources into market networking and penetration, continuous product development, investment in the latest technology, and also building stock and delivery service to manage time to market.”

He adds: “Along with the remaining players in the game we have to work smartly to serve our customers.”

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