MOHAIR’S BIG CHALLENGE: MAINTAINING UPWARD MOMENTUM

Byline: M. McN.

NEW YORK — Mohair, coming off its greatest fall season in recent memory, may be hard-pressed to repeat that stellar performance.
From Nicole Miller and Eric Gaskins to Jill Stuart and Bradley Bayou to Isaac Mizrahi and Stephen DiGeronimo, fashions last fall were replete with mohair.
Yet Duery Menzies, executive director of the Mohair Council, the research and promotion arm of 10,000 domestic ranchers, said, “It’s going to be a challenge to keep momentum going.
“We’d like to get away from a wave action to more of a ripple action,” said Menzies, noting the council is working on ways to keep demand more constant. “We’re going to try and work with designers and manufacturers, and also educate the consumer that the fiber has a long-term use. It’s a renewable, organic, wrinkle-resistant fiber.”
Among the council’s goals:
Expand mohair to more sportswear and ready-to-wear applications.
Capture more business through domestic mills.
Create a better mohair fiber through genetic research.
While prices have nearly doubled in the last 12 months, the council will have to embark on these efforts, knowing that its growers will no longer be subsidized after next year, the result of the October 1993 vote by Congress to phase out the Wool Act, which has subsidized the domestic wool and mohair industry since 1954.
Whatever the council accomplishes, it will have to do on a budget of $575,000, the bulk targeted at advertising and promotion.
“The prices now make the subsidy loss a little more palatable,” Menzies said, “but we need to have these prices for a year or two.”
Production should hit about 12 million pounds this year, down from 14 million pounds, Menzies said, “which signals that we have a more serious grower, someone who is more cognizant of quality.”
Menzies would like to see more mohair used for blazers and classic coats; “a coat you could buy today, and wear it five years from now.”
Other target areas include suits, sweaters, skirts and even jewelry.
Menzies said the council is going to make a concerted effort to get more domestic mills to include mohair in the product mix. Currently, 90 percent of all mohair is exported.
“The problem is that there aren’t a lot of people left at the mill level that know how to use mohair,” he said. “We have to reeducate them.”
While the council is continuing its research to improve the quality of the fiber, particularly its durability, Menzies said it is a slow process.
“We are dealing with a live animal, not an annual seed,” Menzies said. “We have an annual fiber performance test that measures quality factors such as micron count, weight and durability. It’s going to take about 10 years to see the impact of our efforts.”

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