The American Sheep Business Association’s 2023 Innovation Award, given to a person or organisation that has made a game-changing contribution to the US sheep industry, has been won by Jeanne Carver, president and founder of Shaniko Wool Company.

The American Sheep Industry Association (ASI) is a federation of 45 state sheep associations and protects the interests of more than 100,000 sheep producers in the US.

Since the late 1990s, when wool offshore started to destroy the same US sheep markets that ranchers had relied on for more than a century, Carver has been blazing her own trail in the sector. She has persevered in the face of overwhelming difficulties. 

“Jeanne led her family out of commodity wool and lamb sales and into direct sale and marketing of wool and lamb products during the 1990s, when our industry was feeling the pressure of offshoring in textile processing and manufacturing, along with consolidation in the food sector and import pressures on lamb,” said Anthony Theos of Theos Swallow Fork Ranch.

“They continued to build and expand their marketing activities for more than 20 years while maintaining that momentum. Jeanne “pushed [her family ranch] ahead, becoming the first ranch in the world certified to what has become the leading wool certification in the world – the Responsible Wool Standard (RWS)” around 2015. At that time, the global textile market was shifting toward third-party certification of wool.

The RWS, created by Textile Exchange, establishes high standards for the care of sheep stock, environmental protection, and worker security.

In order to increase the supply of RWS-certified US Merino wool available to US garment businesses, Carver founded Shaniko Wool Company (SWC) in 2018. She did this by applying the knowledge she had gained during the RWS certification of her own ranch.

Currently, SWC consists of 10 sheep farmers in the American West who shear an estimated 500,000 pounds of fine Merino wool year while grazing on more than 2.6 million acres. All have undergone audits and received RWS certification. There are additional ranches ready to join her farm group. 

The sheep farms that are now RWS-certified and a part of the Shaniko Wool Company farm group, according to Carver, “are the reason I am earning this honour.” Currently, Shaniko Wool is the only source of Merino/Rambouillet wool in North America that has received RWS certification. Carver remarked, “I am dumbfounded, but I’m incredibly thrilled and humbled by the acknowledgement. The ranchers who are a part of Shaniko Wool are national and state industry leaders.

Her sheep farmers receive a yearly premium of 20 to 25 percent for their wool, which represents rising consumer demand for veracity and transparency in matters of sustainability, the care of sheep stock, and worker welfare.

According to Carver, “the reason I am obtaining this honour” is due to the sheep farms that are now RWS-certified and a part of the Shaniko Wool Company farm group. In North America, Shaniko Wool is the sole supplier of Merino/Rambouillet wool to hold RWS accreditation. “I am shocked, but I’m really delighted and honoured by the acknowledgement,” Carver exclaimed. The ranchers who make up Shaniko Wool are pioneers in their fields on a national and state level.

Her sheep farmers receive a 20–25% premium every year for their wool, which reflects growing customer demand for truthfulness and openness in regards to sustainability, the management of sheep animals, and employee wellbeing.

In November 2022, the NATIVATMRegen-Shaniko joint Chargeurs-Shaniko Wool Company regenerative wool programme was fully unveiled to the world’s garment markets. NATIVATMRegen-Shaniko, which is supported by Blockchain technology, is dual certified under the RWS and NATIVATMRegen, a third-party certified standard created by Chargeurs, and is completely traceable from farm to end product.

The only wool produced in North America that has both farm and mill-level RWS certification is this one. In 2022, Chargeurs’ Jamestown, South Carolina, US wool scouring mill received RWS accreditation. 

The job I’m doing now with these family-run sheep farms is the most fulfilling I’ve ever done, according to Carver. They help rural communities and the American textile sector by doing excellent work. We are more powerful as a unit. It’s a wonderful honour.